June 14, 2017 -- Many do not consider the daily impact that the machining industry has on them. Machinists fabricate most parts of airplanes and cars, cookware and utensils, shower, sink and door handles, to computer casings, water bottles and writing pens. Essentially, if a machine makes a product, a machinist had to either fabricate it, or read prints to input coordinates for machines to craft it.
More important, if the U.S. fails to train qualified machinists for thousands of machining jobs that will become vacant as the Baby Boomer generation continues to retire, the negative impact could be large-scale.
Moore Norman Technology Center is one of only 15 accredited technical schools in Oklahoma’s CareerTech system that offers a formal training option for machinists. Once students graduate from the program - and many times before graduation - they stand to earn a high wage.
The Precision Machined Products Association website states that machinists who hold certificates or associate degrees from accredited schools have the best opportunities for career advancement in the machining industry. According to careeronestop.org the typical median salary for machinists in Oklahoma is $41,740.
MNTC CNC Machining Instructor Tracy Jones said work for machinists is good and they can expect a great wage and benefits for their unique knowledge and skill set. He makes sure his students are continually aware of the job prospects they have by posting current jobs on a board in his classroom to keep them focused on finishing the program in order to have the most employment options and leverage after graduation.
“The truth is that CareerTech can’t graduate machinists fast enough to meet industry demands. I’m always at risk of my students being taken out from under me once they know how to run all the machines and read blueprints. These skills are that high in-demand,” Jones said.
Recent CNC Machining graduates Thomas Watson and Jake Anderson, along with recent Moore High School graduate Nathan Leal, say they each knew machining is right career path for them. Watson was able to complete the program in one year as a full-time adult student and recently took a position with Omada International in Oklahoma City where he will fabricate airplane parts to specification.
“My Dad took MNTC’s machining program in ’94, so I knew what machining was about and also how much machinists are needed and how well the industry pays. I feel good about getting out in the industry,” Watson said.
Anderson’s uncle is a machinist and so he was also familiar with the industry. He opted for class during mornings-only and completed the program in four semesters. He started the program as a senior in high school and was able to use the MNTC Tuition Waiver to finish. Leal will also utilize the Tuition Waiver to attend next school and complete the program. His step-father is a machinist and introduced him to the industry.
They’ve each learned computer numeric controlled machining techniques, also known as CNC machining, and mastered the use of lathes, mills and a new CNC machine during their time in the program. Leal said the machines seemed intimidating at first, but that he quickly learned that he is in control of each machine, what it does and the end result.
Students are also taught how to work independently and how to make practical use of trigonometry, geography and are now familiar with more measuring tools than the average person will see in their lifetimes.
“I enjoy working with the manual machines because I can see what I’m working on directly with my hands and I’m happy doing anything where I can use math.
“In school we learn math, but we aren’t told or shown how it applies to anything. In machining, we experience how math is important and applies exactly to what we make,” Leal said.
Watson added that class projects could sometimes take them five decimal places over; the work must be that precise. Anderson said he didn’t believe himself to be good in math until he got into the machining class.
“Where numbers and letters didn’t mean very much to me in a regular classroom, now I can see dimension, truly understand math and can make final products,” Anderson said.
Watson said the aerospace and oil and gas industries as being some of the largest employers of machinists in Oklahoma, with good job opportunities. Anderson would like to explore his interest in weapons fabrication; however, they both mentioned machining support is needed nationwide and internationally in virtually every industry.
Watson said, “Machining supports all other trades. Without machinists, you wouldn’t have casings for computers or parts for cars being fixed or tools and screws for carpentry; we make everything. Imagine what will happen when we don’t train enough machinists to fill the jobs that will be open in the coming years.”
Watson would like to eventually open his own machine shop. Anderson wants to continue his education, but counts on machining to keep him employed until the time he connects with a new career path and Leal wants to explore the programming side of machining before working full-time in the industry.
“I definitely see the world in a different way now,” said Anderson. “I look at everything around me in terms of how I could use machining to fabricate it.”
by Anna Aguilar, APR