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Formerly Unemployed, Graduates of Community College Manufacturing Training Program Reinvent Themselves as Modern Factory Workers

Not long ago, Ron Oliver of Englewood and Joel Shapiro of Lyndhurst counted themselves among the millions of Americans torn from good jobs and careers by the Great Recession.

“This is a total reinvention of myself,” said Joel Shapiro, 56, who formerly was a warehouse manager. “I look forward to excelling in a new life.”Today, they are among a new breed of production workers who, thanks to a training program offered by New Jersey’s community colleges, are finding jobs and promising careers in advanced manufacturing.

Ron Oliver of Englewood and Joel Shapiro of Lyndhurst share a laugh while setting up a computer-controlled milling machine at the Bergen Community College’s Technology Center. They were among 14 people who graduated December 12 from the college’s fabricated-metal class.
Ron Oliver of Englewood and Joel Shapiro of Lyndhurst share a laugh while setting up a computer-controlled milling machine at the Bergen Community College’s Technology Center. They were among 14 people who graduated December 12 from the college’s fabricated-metal class.

Click-here-to-find-out-how-trainingShapiro and Oliver are among 14 people of all ages and backgrounds, all previously looking for work, who graduated December 12 from a 13-week, fabricated-metal CNC manufacturing training program at Bergen Community College.

The program was underwritten with a grant from the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development in partnership with the NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development (NJCCC), which manages the training program, and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

The Bergen graduates, like 62 previous graduates in this statewide manufacturing training effort, are learning that people with the right skills and attitude can find good paying jobs with local manufacturers.

Five of the 14 graduates have already been offered or accepted jobs with local manufacturers, and Ronald McKnight, who manages the college’s training programs, said he is confident all of them will find jobs, just like graduates of the previous class.

The graduates learned about computer-numerical-controlled machinery (CNC), manual machining, safety, blueprint reading, welding, applied mathematics, cutting-tool speeds and feeds, and workplace etiquette, among other skills.

Shapiro and his fellow classmates visited eight New Jersey manufacturers over the course of the program, some of which mill precision metal parts to a 1,000th or even 10,000th of an inch for surgical or aerospace products.

“These are interesting, cutting edge companies,” Shapiro said. “Machines are doing everything now. It’s an industry that’s not going away. We’re told it is coming back to America.”

Kreisler Manufacturing Corporation of Elmwood Park, NJ has already hired two of the class graduates and two others, Oliver and Shapiro, have received offers from Arrow Fasteners in Saddlebrook. Pay at many area manufacturers starts at $12 to $15 an hour, but experienced machinists and other highly skilled production workers make can make $75,000 a year or more.

Arrow Fasteners Plant Manager Don Nelson says programs like this are an answer to the chronic shortage of skilled workers in his industry. “We’ve seen a drying up…of people who know how to do tool-and-die work and machining. It’s getting harder and harder to find these people,” Nelson told program graduates at their graduation.

The graduates had words of high praise for their lead instructor, Steve Kirbos, saying he was exceptional in his ability to teach them new skills.

State Labor Commissioner Harold J. Wirths heralded the advanced manufacturing training program as “a model for the country” for its success in giving people the skills they need to get manufacturing jobs and as a solution to the skills gap that has made it so difficult for manufacturers to find new workers.

This news release was prepared by Christopher Biddle on behalf of the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. It was distributed to New Jersey news organizations on December 13, 2013.

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