WARSAW — Though many people may think of machining as a “dirty” factory job, according to students in the WACC Machining Academy, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, students are learning to navigate industry grade machines in a lean, clean workshop while working toward receiving a national certification.
Students at the Warsaw Area Career Center are afforded opportunities like never before. Those with ambition and a hardworking attitude are now able to graduate with a near guarantee of being hired into jobs grossing in the $60K range, a national certification and/or dual credit for college.
According to Matt Alexander, precision machine technology instructor for the WACC, students graduating from his program have all been offered positions at local machining and orthopedics companies, where a high demand for experienced workers is currently being reported.
“There is a large need for precision machinists and welders — but mainly machinists,” noted Ronna Kawsky, WACC director. “It is a good income and it is a good job for you to have. Machining jobs are the backbone of who we are as a county. Kids who take the program can get a great foot in the door to our local orthopedics companies for free here in high school.”
Though you may imagine a high school level machining program to be rudimentary at best, nothing is further from the truth. Students in Alexander’s class are able to utilize industry grade CNC machines. The machines, which retail around the $250K range according to Alexander, were purchased with grant money received from the state. A longtime Medtronic employee, Alexander notes these machines are being utilized by many local orthopedics and production companies.
“I worked at Medtronic for 13 years and I learned a lot of really cool things. To be able to take what I learned there and bring it here to these students is really great,” said Alexander.
“These students graduating with a certification sends a message to local employers. It says, ‘I know how to operate the equipment you have in your company,'” stated Kawsky. “I strongly believe we here at the career center should be helping to grow the talent here in the community. I believe we are doing that. We need machinists — people who know how to work CNC machines.”
In addition to machining students are able to enroll in a variety of other programs to further their future career and college pursuits. Kawsky notes the welding program has also seen good enrollment and offers students the ability to receive national certification much like the machining program.
Welding Instructor Jeremiah Paseka noted he has seen student successes in his class as well. Numerous students graduating from the welding program have been able to further their education at area colleges or jobs. For senior Josh Woodcock, enrolling in the welding program at WACC has led him to attend Hobart Institute of Welding Technology as well as work at several local companies to garner firsthand welding experience.
Though the courses are open for all high school students who meet academic requirements, one area the program hopes to grow in is female enrollment. For student Allissa Brower, being the sole female student in the machining academy is not necessarily uncomfortable or odd, but she does encourage others to attend.
“For me, I joined because I like to make things and like to know how to create the things I use on a daily basis,” explained Brower. “I definitely recommend it to other girls who might not know they can take the class.”
Alexander noted those who go on into the machining industry can enjoy salaries 50 percent higher than the average Kosciusko County salary. He noted though the average individual typically sees around $45K a year, those in machining with CNC skills can make a salary around $65K.