News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 3, 2013

METAL HEADS: Machining classes helping give students employable skills

Strong demand exists for machinists

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After David Hohenstein took an introductory machining class at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, he found he liked it and decided to take additional courses.

He likes working with metal “and seeing what you can transform it into.”

Machining requires such skills as being able to measure and knowing fractions and decimals, he said. It requires being patient, careful and safe.

He finds it’s easier to learn those math skills in a hands-on class, where he has to apply it.

Machining is not his first career choice; he’d rather be a police officer. But if that doesn’t work out, “I’d like to be a machinist.”

He knows a strong demand exists for skilled machinists, in the Wabash Valley and elsewhere. It’s a skills gap the Vigo County School Corp. is working to address.

Martin Nagy, in his third year as North’s machine tool teacher, has had success this year in generating interest in the program, with 70 students taking introductory classes. Before that, enrollment had been down.

“To me, it’s all about exposure. This stuff is so cool and so fun,” Nagy said. Some will be interested in pursuing it, and others won’t, but “unless they try it, they’ll never know.”

Guidance counselors work with students to “explain what we do and let them make an informed choice. It’s not a fit for everybody,” the teacher said.

Nagy has worked with local industry to learn what they need and also to help him recruit students.

Last year during a school open house, representatives  of JWS Machine attended, did a demonstration and answered students’ and parents’ questions.

That way, parents and kids could talk to an industry professional about employment opportunities and educational requirements, said Doug Dillion, Vigo County School Corp. director of career-technical education.

“That’s been one of the challenges. People don’t understand enough about machining and industry opportunities,” Dillion said. “It’s one thing for a teacher to tell parents and kids,” but it takes on added significance when an employer talks about it.

According to Nagy, “the cooperation with the local machine shops has been instrumental in helping us out — everything from technical advice, to donated materials, to having jobs available for our students when they graduate. The camaraderie with the local shops will be key to our success.”

Last year, Laurence Cross, general manager at Tri Aerospace, took Nagy to a machining convention in Chicago, and another company took two of North’s guidance counselors. It helped educate the counselors about the opportunities the industry offers.

Nagy also attends meetings of a committee that is working to address local companies’ needs for skilled machinists. Those attending include representatives of industry, education and WorkOne.

The group is chaired by Cross, who said the machine shops “have a challenge finding skilled workers. We’re trying to figure out ways to get the word out that manufacturing in this area is a very good career path.”

Cross said that Nagy is helping fill that skills gap by his involvement with local industry. “The students out of his class are very good in the fundamentals we need” from machinists, he said.

Part of what the committee wants to accomplish is “to make sure we are staying in tune with them [educators], so they have the curriculum that works for us,” Cross said.

Nagy said there are 26 shops within a 15-mile radius of Terre Haute North, and representatives of several have visited his classes and talked to his students about expectations.

The precision machine technology career pathway offers dual college credit opportunity and industry certification, Dillion said. “It’s a great pathway for kids to go into,” with potential to make high wages.

The program is also offered at South Vigo and West Vigo high schools.

 Dillion is concerned that sometimes, there is too much focus on standardized testing.

“Our ultimate goal is to make every student a productive citizen,” Dillion said. “We want them to have high skill, high wage, high demand jobs so they can give back to the community and contribute to the tax base.”

The machining career pathway is one route to get there, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.