12/07/11 — Machining leads to jobs, but WCC program still underutilized

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Machining leads to jobs, but WCC program still underutilized

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 7, 2011 1:46 PM

Ted Koger is convinced that if more people knew about the computer-integrated machining program at Wayne Community College, they'd consider it as a career choice.

Koger, an instructor in the program, is also a graduate -- first with a certificate, then this past spring completing his two-year associate degree in the field.

The potential job market in the field is wide open, he said. Good machinists are not only in demand, but once employed are rarely out of work.

And yet the option remains a mystery.

"Most people don't realize what we do and in the career mindset as a high school student, if you are a parent of a high school student you don't know a machinist or anything about it," he said.

It's not your typical career field, he added, like the firemen, policemen, nurses or teachers who are more visible in the world around us.

"So when it comes time to consider what we want to be, we grow up, we can't consider what we don't know about," he said. "Unless you know (a machinist) you really don't know about this. What they don't realize is how much we affect everyone's daily life.

"We are the people at the most elemental form. We are responsible for everything that you see around you from the time you wake up until you go to sleep."

Put simply, Koger said machinists are the ones who make elemental parts.

Sometimes students work from blueprints, other times they're approached with a concept and asked about making an item. And they do.

"Somebody's always coming up and saying, 'Can you make this?'" Koger said. "I keep threatening to make up a T-shirt -- 'Before you ask' on the front and then on the back, 'Yes, I can.'"

The list of things made in the program ranges from keychains and desk ornaments to golf putters, as well as its recent involvement making parts of a live firing cannon now on display at Fort Macon. But the lab is also set up with manual and computerized machinery to prepare students for jobs in the more than 35 industries in Wayne County that can use their skills.

The program features a one-year diploma and six certificate options in specialized skill areas. It has recently expanded to add a two-year associate degree.

Class sizes are typically low but primarily because of the demand for workers is so high.

"We will begin a class in the fall, which is generally our freshman class (and) you're looking at sizes at anywhere from 10 to 18. The average class size is 15," said Koger. "Through that 15, in two years, some will decide it's not for them, some find a job, so that number starts to dwindle."

"Typically the associates degree, we have fairly low numbers because they'll complete the work and go out and get a job," added Paul Compton, department head/instructor of the industrial technologies program. "We try to encourage them to come back at night and finish their English or math or whatever it is. Some do, some don't."

Adding different certifications has helped a bit in that regard.

"If they take what they suggest to take, then they should be getting at least one certificate per semester," he said. "That kind of motivates them and helps them track their progress."

Despite the economy and a slowdown in the area of manufacturing, Wayne County has remained pretty level comparatively, the men said.

"As long as people need stuff and people want things, there will always be jobs because somebody's got to make it," Koger said. "There will always be somewhere where there's a job.

"As far as a machinist that has training and experience, I don't know of a one out of work. They're hard to find."

The biggest concern he hears from manufacturing entities, he said, is the challenge to find trained, skilled workers.

"We have industries calling us on a regular basis -- 'Do you have anybody ready?' I have people right now that I could probably place in a job but it's 30 miles away."

The two men do their best to recruit students to the technical program, both at the high school and middle school level.

Ernie White, division head, applied technology, calls it "selling and telling."

"We feel that WCC is the best-kept secret in the county," he said. "Not that folks don't know about us, but they don't know everything about us.

"The beauty of applied technology is the skills, which apply to electrical engineering or industrial systems, so when students learn these core skills, we teach skills that can take students in a lot of different directions."

But beyond all the lab work and class projects, the program also focuses on "soft skills" -- from work ethic to teamwork -- that will most benefit students once they land a job.

"I take a personal interest, a professional interest in our students," White said. "Sometimes it's just a two-minute conversation. ... We also teach things that are not really work-related. We have to be able to work together, we have to be able to work in a team environment."

For more information on the computer-integrated machining, call 735-5151 or visit waynecc.edu/machining or its Facebook page at wcc computer-integrated machining.