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Machinists in High Demand

There is an immediate and growing need for machinists in the Eau Claire area, and Chippewa Valley Technical College has the programs to connect job-seekers with those valuable employment opportunities.

Mark Hendrickson, dean of manufacturing at CVTC, says more than 40 machinists jobs have been available in the Chippewa Valley region in recent months. Overall, almost 70 companies have announced a total of
248 full-time openings statewide.

"And that’s not including growth, which is expected," Hendrickson said. "That’s just the openings available. One company I talked with in the region has a growth expectation of 75 percent this year and 75 percent next year. The only restriction is not finding people, and that’s going to throttle back their growth."

Hendrickson said CVTC has arranged for more classroom openings in its manufacturing program that will provide more graduates with good-paying jobs and meet employers’ needs.

"Manufacturers we’ve talked to say they need welders and machinists, skilled workers, to help with their infrastructure to get their products out the door," Hendrickson said. "At CVTC, that’s what we’ve responded to in our program; to keep our equipment current with the needs and to get that person transitioned from our educational environment into a work place."

Beginning in the fall, CVTC will have openings for 60 students a year in the two-year machine tool category, compared to a previous maximum of 50, Hendrickson said. Many third-semester students are already employed before graduating, giving employers an opportunity to witness their skills as the students complete their degrees.

Steve McMahon, an estimator and account manager at Riverside Machine and Engineering in Chippewa Falls, said students who come out of the CVTC program "already have a really good grasp of what machining is about. They have an understanding of what CNC (Computerized Numerically Controlled) equipment is.

"CVTC paints a pretty good picture of what they will see in the work place, and offers a quasi-internship for them to see how their skills apply," McMahon said.

Filling manufacturing jobs will create a positive economic ripple effect, according to Steve Michaud, a consultant for Plank Enterprises, a holding company whose four entities are involved with manufacturing and distributing products to the industrial and commercial markets around the world.

"Statistics show every manufacturing job will create 6 to 7 support jobs in that community, which creates wealth," said Michaud, a former CVTC machine tool instructor for 26 years. "If we solve the problem in manufacturing, we would solve the problem in unemployment because of the multiplying factor."

"The need is huge for machinists and for welders," he added. "The jobs are there. Companies around here are turning away work because they can’t find the machinists to make it."

Michaud said the employment need causes some workers to move from one local manufacturing firm to another. He calls it: "musical chairs of a workforce."

"We need, at the start, the man or woman with the two-year technical college degree before we even think of putting them at a $700,000 machine tool," Michaud said. "But that’s not the end. They need to go back and keep getting the technical training, because that’s essential because of the machining advances. CVTC does a great job of training people for business and industry."

A starting wage, not including overtime, which is becoming prevalent in the manufacturing area, is between $35,000 and $40,000, Michaud said.

Michaud and Tim Shepardson, manager of CVTC’s Chippewa Falls and Neillsville campuses, agreed that the mind sets of students and their parents have to change about manufacturing jobs.
"It’s not the hot, sweaty, dirty job that grandpa had," Michaud said. "Today, we have a great environment, high skill set and the pay is not low by any means. We have great environments and jobs that take a lot of skill.

"If you can machine, you’ve got a job today," Michaud added. "It’s very professional. You have to have the math and problem solving skills."

"The ones we have to convince are the parents," Shepardson said. "They still exert significant influence on the career decisions of young people, more so than teachers and guidance counselors."

Shepardson said the attractiveness of the technical college, especially related to the manufacturing needs, is that "students don’t rack up the debt and have a career direction" compared with a four-year college.

The Chippewa Falls CVTC campus is surrounded by manufacturers, particularly those involved with the plastic film sheeting industry, Shepardson said.

"Chippewa Falls has a niche and a need for machinists," he said. "These companies have the work orders and capital, but they do not have the workforce. It’s a crisis.

"Those looking for work need to realize that machinists, welders and mechanical technicians are good paying opportunities and family-sustaining jobs," Shepardson said.