Not long ago, Ron Oliver of Englewood and Joel Shapiro of Lyndhurst counted themselves among the millions of Americans torn from good jobs and careers by the Great Recession.
Today, they are among a new breed of production workers who, thanks to a training program offered by New Jersey’s community colleges, can now find jobs and promising careers in advanced-manufacturing industries.
“This is a total reinvention of myself,” said Joe Shapiro, 56, once a warehouse manager. “I look forward to excelling in a new life.”
Shapiro and Oliver are among 14 people of all ages and backgrounds, all previously looking for work, who graduated Dec. 12 from a 13-week, fabricated-metal CNC manufacturing training program at Bergen Community College.
The program was underwritten with a grant from the NJ Department of Labor in partnership with the NJ Community College Consortium, and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
Five of the 14 graduates have already been offered or accepted jobs with local manufacturers, and Ronald McKnight, who manages the training program at the college’s Technology Center, said he is confident all of them will find jobs, just like the graduates of the previous class.
The graduates learned about computer-numerical-controlled machinery (CNC), manual machining, safety, blueprint reading, welding, applied mathematics, cutting-tool speeds and feeds, and workplace etiquette, among other skills.
Shapiro and his fellow classmates visited eight New Jersey manufacturers during the program, some of which mill precision metal parts to extremely high tolerances—as much as 10,000th of an inch for surgical or aerospace products.
“These are interesting, cutting edge companies,” Shapiro said. “Machines are doing everything now. It’s an industry that’s not going away. We’re told it is coming back to America.”
Kreisler Manufacturing Corporation of Elmwood Park has already hired two of the class graduates, and two others, Oliver and Shapiro, have received offers from Arrow Fasteners in Saddlebrook. Pay at many area manufacturers starts at $12 to $15 an hour, but experienced machinists and other highly skilled production workers can make $75,000 a year or more.
The graduates had words of high praise for their lead instructor, Steve Kirbos, saying he was exceptional in his ability to teach them new skills.
State Labor Commissioner Harold J. Wirths has heralded this program as “a model for the country” for its success in giving people the skills they need to get manufacturing jobs and as a solution to the skills gap that has made it difficult for manufacturers to find new workers.