A dozen local machinists have reached the halfway point in a four-year apprenticeship program set up by area manufacturers and Western Nevada Community College.
And the training is already paying off for their employers.
"This has been the best business decision I have ever made," Custom Stamping owner Woody Wurster said after ceremonies last week to recognize the student machinists' milestone. Wurster recently donated a brand new milling machine to the program to make sure the machinists are learning with the newest technology.
"I didn't even see the machine. I called up the maker and had it delivered directly to the college," he said.
"When I started my business 30 years ago, I knew that the availability of qualified tool and die makers would be the limiting factor. What we do is so specialized, with processes we developed and our own designs, that we always are retooling."
Custom Stamping makes the tiny metal pins for electronic connectors used in the telecommunications and computer industries.
"We would be training these men anyway, in the plant if not in this program. We're helping with the equipment because I don't believe in paying for their tuition - they need to make an investment in the training themselves," Wurster said.
"It makes me happy to see these young men doing so well, the fellows like Joe Beatson and Rick Waltz. They are raising families, working hard and they've committed themselves to a four-year program to do even better."
The apprenticeship program was developed after a group of Carson-area manufacturers met over three years ago to discuss how to create a pool of highly trained machinists for the community. The Machinist Apprenticeship Association of Northern Nevada was created and the first training began two years ago.
Brian Miller of Chromalloy Nevada said some of the students have their costs paid by their employers on the condition they maintain at least B grades. Other employers like Custom Stamping provide in-kind support such as equipment. And some of the students are paying all their own costs, Miller said.
The training takes place evenings and weekends at WNCC's machine tool training facilities on its Carson City campus. Each semester has encompassed 90 hours of classroom instruction and 60 hours of lab time, meaning working on mills and other machines turning out machined pieces as assigned. Six instructors and seven teaching assistants are working with first- second- and third-year trainees, Miller said.
The 12 original trainees have completed general courses and will now specialize either in tool and die making or computerized numerically controlled machining.
"Over 50 percent of the nation's machinists are over 50 years old. There are 30,000 new machinist jobs every year and only 15,000 machinists to fill them," Miller said. "If they remain unfilled, these jobs will go somewhere else, to other countries."
He said the association is working to recruit high school students into the apprenticeship program, to get them involved in the training courses at the college before graduation.
"Sometimes we balk at the costs of training," Miller said at Thursday's ceremonies. "But what is the alternative, the cost of ignorance? I think that cost is very high - to our communities, to our industry and our future."