Baker College of Cadillac, Charlevoix Public Schools Team Up with Area Industries to Address Advance

July 10, 2013

A collaboration of educators, manufacturers and representatives of state veterans and apprenticeship groups are working together to address a critical issue in Michigan’s workforce: training a new generation of workers for a multitude of new careers in advanced manufacturing technology.

The partners — Charlevoix Public Schools, Baker College of Cadillac, ACAT Global and Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District (Char-Em ISD) — plan to launch a computer numerical control (CNC) program this fall in the Charlevoix High School machine laboratory. It would include certificate and associate degree options. Some students may be funded through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill.

The partners came together recently at the ACAT Global headquarters on M-66 North, where CEO Joe A. Moch has been ramping up for production of catalytic converter substrates and other advanced emissions-reducing technologies. He and Kevin Cain, CTO of Aria Group, Inc., are concerned that the rapidly expanding advanced manufacturing industries across Michigan won’t be able to find people to fill their plants without new training initiatives.

“We hope to address the national shortage of skilled CNC machinists by creating a center for excellence that brings together education groups, including schools and colleges, veterans retraining programs and industry,” said Moch who is also President and CEO of Grand Rapids-based Oliver Racing Parts, another company supporting the collaborative CNC program in Charlevoix.

Baker College of Cadillac and Char-Em ISD are already collaborating extensively through an Early College Program that dual enrolls high school students in Baker College courses. Both are ready to meet the next challenge.

Baker College of Cadillac, which currently offers a one-year CNC operator certificate program and is adding a two-year associate degree in advanced manufacturing technology this fall, proposes to bring this curriculum to Charlevoix High School. The college will rent the lab from the high school and provide an instructor. ACAT Global will connect students to the broader manufacturing community.

“Charlevoix High School has a state-of-the-art laboratory already in place, and our relationship with school district is well established,” said Kelly Smith, Baker College of Cadillac President. “We appreciate Joe Moch working with other Northern Michigan manufacturers to put together this school-to-work program for area job seekers. We fully support the focus on bringing veterans into the program, and we appreciate the attendance of representatives of the Veterans’ Services Division and the Department of Labor apprenticeship program at our recent meeting. Baker College is well versed in administering the array of veterans’ funding programs for students at our campuses throughout Michigan.”

Mark Lagerwey, Dean of Business and Technology at Baker College of Cadillac, said the CNC operator program in Cadillac took off immediately when launched two years ago. The first graduates of the program have been completing the required 120-hour internships, and most are being quickly snatched up by employers.

“The shortage of skilled workers in this field is well documented nationwide,” Lagerwey said. “It’s a perfect storm brought about by the convergence of new technologies like 3-D printing, robotics and mechatronics, an aging population of old-school machinists, and a competitive U.S. market fueled by cheap natural gas and entrepreneurial manufacturers like ACAT Global and Aria Group.

“Talented people in advanced manufacturing are in demand across the country. Imagine this: Kevin lives in Traverse City and telecommutes to Aria Group that is located in Irvine, California. His current project is designing vehicles for the next Transformers movie!”

Evidence of the shortage has been documented throughout northern Michigan. Representatives of Michigan Works, Baker College and other area colleges have met on various occasions with industry leaders who are advocating for training programs. About a dozen met at a Michigan Works-sponsored breakfast last year at the Boyne City plant of Precision Edge Surgical Products Co.

In addition to confirming the urgent training needs, the meeting was a call to action to better market advanced manufacturing to a public that still associates manufacturing with 20th century sweat shops.

This perspective is supported in various publications, including the April 22, 2013, Time magazine cover story, “Made in the USA,” which asserts: “The U.S. economy continues to struggle … but step back and you’ll see a bright spot, perhaps the best economic news the U.S. has witnessed since the rise of Silicon Valley: Made in the USA is making a comeback.”

The Time article notes that manufacturing has seen 500,000 new jobs created in the past three years. Closer to home, the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, in a 2013 report entitled “Manufacturing cluster workforce analysis,” quotes Mark Tomlinson, CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

“Manufacturing jobs are not the repetitive-assembly jobs of the past,” Tomlinson said. “From CNC operators to engineers, today’s manufacturing jobs require technical communication and problem-solving skills, and industry and education must work together to prepare both our current and future workforce.”

That sums up nicely the perspective of the partners.

“We see an urgent need to create a new image of 21st century manufacturing,” Moch said. “We must encourage more people to consider educational programs in advanced manufacturing, CNC and CAD/CAM engineering.”

In addition to Baker’s Cadillac campus, Baker College of Flint also offers the CNC operator and advanced manufacturing technology programs. To offer these programs in Charlevoix, Baker is currently seeking approvals from the Higher Learning Commission and the U.S. Department of Education.

The Baker College System