A western Massachusetts high school is showing off its new high-tech manufacturing equipment.
Unlike most high school technology shops, when senior Dalton Brigley goes to class at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, he’s operating state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. For four weeks now, the high school has been housing Berkshire Community College’s Intellitek LearnMate Lab consisting of a program robot and two computer numerical control, or CNC, machines. The program includes software that allows students to design a product, create a plastic prototype through a 3D printer, and then format the milling and turning machines to cut and drill the raw metal material forming the finished product. Brigley is one of more than 30 students in the high school’s Manufacturing Technology vocational program.
“If you can go out into the workforce, even if they don’t have the machines there, but you can tell them you have experience writing programs and running CNC machines, it’s a big plus,” said Brigley.
Community leaders joined school officials in celebrating the effort to develop a manufacturing workforce for the region from within its own community. Mike Supranowicz is the President of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and a 1973 graduate of Taconic High School. He says preparing local students for 21st century manufacturing jobs is essential to attracting companies to the Berkshires. The region was hit hard by the exodus of General Electric in the 1990s and is still looking to fill the vacant plant it once occupied.
“Well do you have the workforce that’s ready for our new technology?” Supranowicz said. “Up until today, we had a hard time selling that point. But today I can look into that room and say we have made it to the top. We now have the technology we need to be able to market ourselves against everyone else in the nation to try to draw that next manufacturer here, hopefully to the William Stanley Business Park.”
Jay Anderson is also a Taconic grad and the President of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation.
“There was a core group of employment that was already taking place,” Anderson said. “With an aging population you run into a problem of who’s going to replace those jobs.”
High school and college students, along with current and displaced workers, will be able to use the equipment and the software curriculum built into it to learn the step-by-step process of how to manufacture parts. High school students can earn up to 12 college credits at BCC while afternoon and evening sessions will also be offered for non-students to work on the courses that are based on the Department of Labor model. Bill Mulholland is the Vice President for Community Education and Workforce Development at BCC. He says while Massachusetts saw an overall decline of in-state mass manufacturing during the recession, it found a firm foundation of smaller manufacturers.
“It is the people capital that becomes the competitive weapon,” Mulholland said. “It’s about having a special capability; a thinking worker.”
Mulholland says manufacturing accounts for 10 percent of the state’s workforce, but is No. 2 in payroll, exceeded hospitality and retail combined. Larry Michalenko is a technology teacher at Taconic.
“One of our personal goals for this shop is that we would like, in our careers, to have one manufacturing company at least move to Pittsfield because we can supply the workforce for that company,” said Michalenko.
The lab program is funded by the Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda. The 15-member coalition of community colleges is fully supported by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. BCC’s share of the grant was $153,000. Taconic High School also received a $100,000 state grant to bring in another similar machine.