Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 1, 2013

NMC offers 'crash course' with jobs at the end

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Steve Meissler wanted to change careers for quite some time, but just couldn’t pull off the coursework at Northwestern Michigan College.

“NMC traditionally offered (technical) education in a longer-term format and usually during the days, so if you’re working it precludes you,” said Meissler, 51, a former construction worker.

This spring, Meissler jumped at the chance to enroll in a basic machinist class, a high-intensity, seven-week program held twice a week at night from 5 to 9 p.m. An employer sought him out for an interview long before the class was slated to end in mid-June, he said.

“I didn’t pursue them, they found me,” said Meissler, who drives to the class from his Boyne City home.

Northwest Michigan Council of Governments organized the course as part of its “Just in Time” program. The pilot program aims to match area employers’ immediate needs with unemployed or underemployed workers who are up for accelerated training.

In February, NMCOG gathered about a dozen manufacturers who reported they were short of machinists. The manufacturers designed the course curriculum and NMCOG contracted with the college to teach the course that began in April, said Jaclyn Sanborn, NMCOG’s business connections manager.

“The manufacturers were engaged in the process from the beginning, and they’re the reason we’re doing the training,” said Sanborn.

Northwest Michigan Works! connected the 11 students to $2,300 scholarships available through the federal Workforce Investment Act.

The class offers students a head start in machining, a very difficult skill to learn, said instructor Matt Teeter, who also teaches precision machine technology at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.

“These are high-tech jobs that are not leaving the country,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand for it.”

Area manufacturers pay beginning machinists a fairly low wage — about $8.50 an hour for high school students, and $10 to $12 an hour for adults. Most provide health and retirement benefits. Yet the class puts workers on the path toward becoming a computer numerical control machinist, who earn between $15 to $25 an hour. Machinists now in the workforce are aging out, which opens up a lot of opportunity, Teeter said.

“There isn’t anything, any product that’s made that someone in our trade doesn’t have some part of,” said Teeter. “Once you know it, you can go anywhere in the world and get a job if you so desire. I believe that 100 percent.”

Opportunity is just what the students in Teeter’s class sought. All 11 students were unemployed or underemployed when they began the class on April 22.

“Ten dollars an hour doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re not making anything, we’re giving them a good shot at the future,” said Adam Dwyer, an NMC training specialist.

Attendance has been excellent, despite the course intensity, said Dwyer, one of five course instructors.

“They’re very motivated. I can’t believe how dedicated they are,” he said.