EMCC program aimed at filling need for skilled mechanists

East Mississippi Community College is now offering an Associate of Applied Science degree in Precision Manufacturing and Machining Technology. There is a shortage of workers in the field nationwide.
Special to Daily Times Leader

Retiring baby boomers are fueling a nationwide shortage of skilled precision machinists that has been exacerbated by technological advances requiring a more skilled workforce.

Beginning this fall, East Mississippi Community College will offer an Associate of Applied Science degree in Precision Manufacturing and Machining Technology to help meet a local demand for skilled workers in the field. The college already offers a one-year certificate in the program.

“For the past 15 years or so all the information you read says that there are more people retiring out of machining than there are people getting into it,” EMCC Precision Manufacturing and Machining Technology instructor Ronnie Guy said. “There is a real gap out there. Because of that the pay is good. If a machine shop or manufacturer finds a good machinist they are going to pay them so they can keep them.”

In a 2015 report, the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte predicts that over the next decade 2.7 million U.S. workers in manufacturing jobs will retire and an estimated 3.5 million workers will be needed to fill those jobs and new positions created by job growth. According to the report, an estimated 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers, with machinists listed among the areas to be hardest hit by the shortage.

Recruitment into training programs for machinists has been hampered by a perception that manufacturing is a “dirty” job when in reality most industries now boast climate control, cutting edge technology and sterile work environments, Guy said.

“The rise of lean and continuous improvement cultures have made many manufacturing facilities almost clean enough to eat off the floor,” an article on the Precision Machined Products Association website states.

Students in the program learn basic machining, blueprint reading, precision measurements, and the operation of lathes, mills, surface grinders and saws, among other things. Students are also taught to operate Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, which are manufacturing machines operated by computers.

“Like any other programmer, we will write a program in code and put it into the computer and set all the tools that the machine needs to make the part,” Guy said. “Then you just punch the button and the computer takes control of the machine and makes all the movements.”

One of the perks for machinists is that the work typically isn’t physically demanding and most can continue to work in the field right up until retirement, Guy said.

Jobs are available in machine shops or at manufacturing plants.

“The starting pay for graduates is between $14 and $20 an hour and the wages go up from there if they get some experience and continue to work on their skills,” Guy said. “Machinists can make a comfortable living.”

Registration for the program is under way now for the fall term that begins in August. For more information, contact Guy at (662) 243-1917 or rguy@eastms.edu; Greta Miller at (662) 243-2659 or gmiller@eastms.edu; or Patricia Corrigan at (662) 243-2631 or pcorrigan@eastms.edu.