Five Fulton High School teens – three 2021 graduates and two rising seniors – were among the first high school students in the country to participate in a hands-on boot camp to learn machining at Pellissippi State Community College last week.
The five-day boot camp was part of the America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) training program developed by IACMI – The Composites Institute and University of Tennessee Professor Tony Schmitz, who was teaching the same boot camp to students and adults at UT.
Pellissippi State and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are partnering with IACMI and UT in the U.S. Department of Defense-funded program, which is designed to teach essential machining skills and address the nation’s growing manufacturing workforce gap.
The program kicked off in December 2020 and already more than 1,450 students from across the nation – including future manufacturing engineers, machine tool designers, entrepreneurs, machinists and more – have taken the online course that preceded these hands-on trainings, where students produced the components necessary to create an oscillating air engine by machining and assembling four parts: base (aluminum), piston block (aluminum), valve block (printed polymer) and wheel (steel).
Manufacturing is not what it used to be, IACMI CEO John Hopkins said on Friday. “I hope you’ve learned what manufacturing is, what machining is and that you will build on this and share your experiences.”
Associate Professor Mark Williams of Pellissippi State’s mechanical engineering technology program agreed that manufacturing suffers from a misunderstanding of what machinists do.
“The image that manufacturing was dark and dirty – that’s not true anymore,” he said. “We have to change that image, and a big part of that is getting students in here, hands on, and getting them interested.”
As baby boomers retire in large numbers, young machinists are in high demand.
“Jobs4TN has over a dozen machinist listings right now, plus a dozen listings for CNC, all within a 25-mile radius of Pellissippi State,” said Andy Polnicki, MegaLab director for Pellissippi State. “Local manufacturers have job openings for entry-level machinists beginning at $20 an hour right now.”
The five Fulton High students – 2021 graduates Joselynne Orta, Krishiv Patel and Alexander Gaspar Manuel and rising seniors Kaylee Nava Sabino and Alexandria Russell – showed off their new machining skills Friday to community members as well as IACMI leaders.
Ronni Chandler with Project Grad said the college “took a chance on letting high school students use this multimillion-dollar lab, and the students saw that they can be here. It’s been future changing.”
Lesli Bales-Sherrod does marketing and writing for Pellissippi State Community College.