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CNC Machinist Skills Gap Speaks Volumes About US Manufacturing

It's been said that high-tech manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance, and the US is getting ready to retool its supply chains to compete globally. However, we haven't been able to give our workforce the skills to fill high-tech factory floor positions such as skilled machinists that operate computerized numerical control (CNC) machines.

There's plenty of evidence that the demand for CNC skills at high-tech manufacturing facilities across the country is higher than the supply of workers with these skills. This leads me to conclude that there's a lack foresight among high-tech stakeholders. We've known for several years about the growth in high-tech manufacturing and the corresponding increase in factory floor jobs. The question is why manufacturers, community colleges, and federal, state, and local governments didn't prepare workers with these skills sooner.

Being ill prepared for the factory jobs of the 21st century isn't something to be taken lightly. If anything, the US should be eager to prepare for the return of these jobs, especially since, according to the National Science Board, we lost 687,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010.

Furthermore, and as we still suffer from the effects of the Great Recession, America has no time to waste fiddling with bad policy and poor planning. We need to get serious about our manufacturing development plan. Our inability to provide manufacturers with skilled CNC workers reflects our lax attitude toward developing that plan.

Computerized numerical control machines highlight the technological shift that has occurred on the factory floor. Manually operated machines are a thing of the past; they've been replaced by machines that use computers to perform factory tasks such as grinding and milling. Being a CNC operator doesn't require a four-year degree, and you can earn $80,000 a year or even more, depending on your experience.

Developing these skilled machinists is crucial to meeting the demands of high-tech manufacturing, but a CNC skills gap exists across the country, according to Barry Bluestone, professor of economics at Northeastern University and director at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

“We are not producing anywhere near enough of these folks out of our vocational regional high schools, our community colleges, or other workforce training programs,” Bluestone told us. “Many manufacturers that I've talked to say they could expand their production. They have the demand out there, but they just can't fulfill that demand, given their inability to find enough skilled craftsmen to run their machines.”

A quick scan of online job listings highlights the demand for these skills. SimplyHired has more than 5,000 listing for CNC machinist jobs available across the country. CareerBuilder lists more than 800, and Monster.com lists more than 500.

The electronics manufacturing services company Flextronics International Ltd. has several machinist openings at its Buffalo Grove, Ill., facility. These jobs require a high school diploma/GED and 6-10 years of experience. Applicants should be able to operate “various conventional machine shop equipment such as lathes, mills, grinders, vertical and horizontal saws to produce and detail a variety of small parts, ranging form simple to complex, which are within prescribed tolerances.” The job listing also says Flextronics is looking for a skilled worker to operate “Computer Numerical Control (CNC) vertical mills, and lathe with Fanuc controller” and to perform “machine set-ups, adjusting speeds, feeds, and depth of cut, to machined parts to specifications set forth in blueprints, drawings, engineering orders, etc.”

Benchmark Electronics Inc., which provides integrated electronics manufacturing, design, and engineering services, is looking for a CNC programmer. “This is a great opportunity to slingshot your CNC programming career,” the job listing says. The position requires working with numerous materials, tooling, and machine operations. “You'll interpret engineering drawings and establish set-up procedures, inspect first runs and parts using precision measuring equipment and possibly work closely with engineering in production of the parts.”

Mill-Max Manufacturing. Corp., a vertically integrated engineering and manufacturing company, has an opening for a CNC programmer/machinist, who will work to help the company produce more than 100 million interconnect components a week.

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence of a CNC machinist shortage, but there are also signs that community colleges are opening programs to encourage high school students and individuals who don't have a four-year degree to learn CNC machinist skills.

Baker College of Cadillac, Mich., has collaborated with Charlevoix High School and several local manufacturers to launch a CNC machinist training program.

Okuma America Corp. has joined forces with Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin to offer training using Okuma’s CNC machines and simulators.

Other community colleges offer similar courses, and I expect more high-tech companies to assist with training in this area as the US prepares its workers for a high-tech manufacturing sector that is built to last.

7 comments on “CNC Machinist Skills Gap Speaks Volumes About US Manufacturing

  1. Eldredge
    May 30, 2014

    There definitely is a shortage of skilled CNC machinists. Hopefully, the educational marketplace will respond to the demand, and start producing more talent, but there needs to be more emphasisi on the importance and value of these skills.

  2. Ashu001
    May 31, 2014

    Nicole,

    Its not just CNC Machining but also large chunks of skilled Labor force which needs some degree of Computing Knowledge/Expertise as well is in short supply.

    What I see states also doing is recruiting/Holding onto some of these Skilled Pros by part-compensating their Companies(by paying Partial Salaries);the idea is /was that these Skills should'nt go waste so that when the Economy does pick up ;these Employees will be ready to go Full-Time again.

    If I remember correctly,North Carolina was the leader in this trend.

    It also makes a tremdous amount of sense keeping Long-term Sustainablity/Trends in-tact.

     

  3. The Source
    May 31, 2014

    Eldredge,

    You're absolutely right that there should be greater focus on the importance of these skills. But doesn't that tell us something else?  Why is it that at this stage in our manufacturing development plan we lack the importance of which you speak? Either American wants more manufacturing or it doesn't.  The country's educators, high-tech industry leaders and other stakeholders must decide what its manufacturing goals are and how seriously it wants to achieve these goals. 

     

  4. _hm
    June 1, 2014

    This is very good reporting. Also encouraging for young family and parents alike. Is it also possible to highlight the salary, per hour rate for this work?

    And what are similar other niche fileds for young guys and their parents look for?

  5. The Source
    June 2, 2014

    _hm

    Thanks for the compliment. With regard to wages for a CNC Machinist, I encourage you to look at this report giving a state by state breakdown of CNC Machinist salaries.

     

     

     

  6. The Source
    June 6, 2014

    Tech4people,

    I think there's a problem when top level high-tech leaders say on the one hand that they want to increase high-tech manufacturing, but then don't prepare the workforce to fill the jobs that come from an expansion in manufacturing. The country deserves better planning and policy decisions across the board.

     

     

     

  7. Ashu001
    June 23, 2014

    The Source,

    Great points.

    Its kinda explains the Whole Ham-Headed approach our Government has to solving not just the Demand for Highly Skilled Workers but also to solving our Long-term Unemployment challenges[The Number of Americans dropping out of the Workforce has just reached an Alltime recently;irrespective of what Government Headline Data tells you].

    Everything in America has become hostage to Cronyism and various “Interest Groups” and their Associated Lobbies.

    For instance,who do you think is the Bigger Beneficiary from Obama's Recent decision to Ease Higher Education Loans[This inspite of the fact that American Student Loans have now reached an unheard of Gargantuan $1 Trillion recently].

     

    Its the Useless Administrators who are just paper-pushers and parasites.

     

    I could say the same for the Militiary-Industrial Complex as well but atleast that is shrinking today on its own.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    More here

    http://www.aaup.org/file/zreport.pdf

     

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