Manufacturing Skills Training Builds Pipeline for In-Demand Trades

Jack Krikorian

One surefire way to address manufacturing’s skills gap problem is to strengthen the pipeline of skilled workers. The Technology & Manufacturing Assocation (TMA) in Schaumburg, Illinois, is helping to lead that effort in the Midwest through state-of-the-art training for in-demand skilled trades.

TMA, founded in 1925 as the Tool and Die Institute, serves as a resource for more than 1,000 Midwest manufacturers and 30,000 manufacturing employees. TMA offers members a full slate of manufacturing skills instruction in tool-and-die making, mold-making and CNC machining.

More than 175 students are enrolled in TMA’s CNC courses. Students in a three-level Hands-On Training program learn mill and lathe operation then tackle more advanced G-code and CAM programming. In TMA’s three-year apprenticeship program, students choose a specialty in moldmaking, tool and die, or CNC programming. Their first two years feature blueprint reading, shop math, and machine theory. Third-year students learn more complex methods of CNC programming and machining incorporating CAD/CAM training using Mastercam.

TMA’s shop is equipped for students already in the workforce, accelerating their success on the job, according to Jack Krikorian, the association’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

“Because we’re serving member companies, we can’t have just one type of controller,” explained Krikorian. “We can’t train someone on a Haas in the evening and then the next morning have them go back to work on a FANUC controller. So, we train students on the machines they’re actually using at their companies.”

TMA has two Haas mills, one Doosan mill with a FANUC control and one Mazak 5-axis mill with Mazatrol. They also have a 2-axis Haas ST-10 lathe and a Doosan lathe with C&Y axes and live tooling, along with a Swiss CNC machine.

“We’re cutting metal. We cut aluminum and stainless,” said Krikorian. “We aim to be as realistic as possible to match what students are doing back at their companies.”

TMA’s computer lab has 21 simulators and numerous seats of Mastercam. Not every student works for a company that uses Mastercam, said Krikorian, but the training helps build their confidence with the technology.

“One of my fears for students is that if their boss asks if they’d like to learn CAM software, they’ll be afraid,” Krikorian said. “But if they’ve gone through my class, it will motivate them to take what they’ve learned and run with it.”

TMA’s Education Foundation also encourages manufacturing technology instruction by facilitating CNC training for high schools that don’t have the funds or space for machines or a program. Students can earn National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials and operator credentials. The program helps meet the demand within TMA membership for qualified CNC machinists.

“Our goal is ultimately to put students right into companies. We’re trying to be a little bit of a pipeline for our member companies,” said Krikorian, who chairs the NIMS Advisory Council. “We had one company that offered internships to some senior students. After graduation, they were offered positions, and some are still working there.”

When he’s not teaching, Krikorian is working on new curriculum to keep pace with an evolving industry. His goal is to introduce 3D printing instruction along with more stand-alone Mastercam classes and higher level Mastercam training.

“I want TMA be at the forefront,” said Krikorian. “That’s why we always use the latest version of Mastercam software because of all the new toolpaths and innovations coming forward with CAM.”

You can learn more about the work of the TMA in a Technical Education Magazine article: Precision Training Helps Midwest Manufacturers Strengthen Workforce, Narrow Skills Gap.

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