CNC Training Making Headway in Florida

We hear the complaint time and time again: There’s a shortage of skilled labor in the United States. So what are we doing about it? One solution that has been getting results in Florida is the 80 to Work Program from Longwood-based Machine Training Solutions (MTS). This intensive virtual reality training program helped Hoerbiger Corp. of America have new employees on its shop floor moving on with the next phase of their training in two weeks.

David Gonzalez, human resources manager for Hoerbiger Corp. of America (Pompano Beach, Florida), has successfully kept pace with his company’s growing need for employees during the last decade. But when it came to hiring qualified CNC machinists, Mr. Gonzalez oftentimes found himself at a loss.

“It’s frustrating because you know that the individuals who are applying probably don’t have the skills, but with the market you’re in you have to take a chance and bring people on board at times. It’s very frustrating to be continually looking and looking for a certain skillset. Often it takes quite a long time to find that individual,” he says.  That meant between five and 10 jobs going unfilled for years at a time.

As the number of technical schools offering training dwindled down to two in Broward County, Mr. Gonzalez and his company decided to be more proactive and sought out Longwood-based Machine Training Solutions (MTS) for help. Hoerbiger enrolled in MTS’s 80 to Work Program. Two weeks of intensive virtual reality training later, Mr. Gonzalez had new employees on the shop floor moving on with the next phase of their training.

“The simulation software is revolutionizing the way CNC is being taught,” says Richard Winslow, a manufacturer and MTS consultant. “It used to be one-on-one with a journeyman teaching an apprentice how to set up a piece of equipment. But there’s very little scalability and you end up with a liability associated with a piece of gear and the student, and it’s very expensive.”

MTS was developed by Manufacturers Association of Florida (MAF) President Al Stimac, who is also on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).  According to Mr. Winslow, Mr. Stimac kept seeing a real shortage of qualified CNC machinists as he traveled throughout Florida and the country as a NAM board member, so he spent two years adapting software that is already the backbone of the German manufacturing apprenticeship program to fit what U.S. companies desperately needed.

For the past several years, the Florida manufacturing industry has partnered between CareerSource Florida and post-secondary institutions using MTS software. The MTS software is designed to substantially lower the initial costs for schools to enter the CNC training market. Instead of purchasing machinery that can cost more than $500,000, schools can use the MTS software to enable students to set up and run programs as often as necessary. Students can test the boundaries with the virtual-reality software without fear of crashing a machine and destroying the material being produced. Moreover, they have access to the curriculum 24/7 from their home computers, so they can continue learning outside of the classroom with reduced raw material costs.

Mr. Gonzalez says one of his favorite aspects of the MTS 80 to Work program is the continued support.  “They came back in to do additional training beyond the on-the-job-training we provided,” he says. The manufacturing success in Pompano Beach was a factor in Hoerbiger’s recent decision to bring 420 more jobs and $43 million in capital to a plant in nearby Coral Springs.

Florida is home to nearly 19,000 manufacturing companies, but the skills-gap problem isn’t just a Florida one. Nearly 2,000 October Manufacturing Day events in all 50 states were designed to highlight the industry and its career potential by welcoming students and leaders onto plant floors across the country. 

In 2011, some 600,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs went unfilled. According to the National Manufacturing Association, the U.S. will need 3.5 million manufacturing jobs during the next decade but roughly 2 million jobs are likely to go unfilled due to the skills gap.

Mr. Winslow sees where MTS can help, especially in Florida, where CareerSource qualifies employers to receive up to 50 percent tuition reimbursement of training costs for the 80 to Work program. 

“We are a manufacturing training company whose training programs are developed by manufacturers for manufacturers,” Mr. Winslow says. “The key to the success of the MTS program is we provide students with skill sets to make them productive in a manufacturing workplace on day one. That’s why our graduates get jobs. Other training programs sound great and look good on paper but have no input from manufacturers. The result is a student graduates from one of these programs with a certificate and can’t find a job, because they have none of the CNC skills that manufacturers need.”