Voc-Tech training program a ‘win-win’

Westfield Vocational-Technical High School Manufacturing Technology Instructor Clement Fucci speaks to a group of students in the schools state-of-the-art computer-aided manufacturing design lab. (File photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

WESTFIELD  – A study of 200 precision machine companies across western Massachusetts found that over the next four years, such companies will need a minimum of 1,200 skilled workers. The projected number of vocational and technical school graduates in the Pioneer Valley who plan to enter this industry over the next four years totals only about 400.
“This leaves us with an approximate 800-person [deficit],” said Bill Ward, president and CEO of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, which conducted the study.
Addressing the Westfield School Committee last night, he quickly added that relief is in the pipeline. A $750,000 state grant has been awarded to train nearly 400 precision machinists throughout western Massachusetts over the next year. A Precision Manufacturing Training Program curriculum has been established with the funds, and by next spring, this program will be in place at Westfield Vocational Technical High School.
A similar training program began recently at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield.
The Regional Employment Board chose WVTHS because it is known for offering high quality industry training as well as a top-notch faculty and comprehensive facilities. Bringing the program to Westfield Vocational quickly became a top priority for the board, Ward said, as it offers a “premiere training program in the [Pioneer] Valley.”
According to Ward, the new program and its comprehensive curriculum offers more of an on-the-job training approach, as opposed to traditional schooling. It is available to industry workers who are unemployed, as well as military veterans who are struggling to re-enter the workforce. The program is also in place for those who need re-training and enhancement of their skills to keep up with ever-changing technology and mechanical equipment. As technology evolves, so does the machining industry, Ward said; staying current with technological advancements and changes is key to job security.
“We want to prepare unemployed people and veterans who are desperately looking for work but need the skills to do these jobs,” Ward said, adding that the training program is also geared toward people currently employed in the industry who need to re-train or learn new skills.
WVTHS offers such training to its students already, making it an ideal facility for the program. There is no cost to participate, thanks to the grant, and with these funds, the school’s existing faculty and staff will be hired to run the program. Ward said this is the best option, given their knowledge of not only their respective crafts but also the facilities, the machines and shop spaces, and the ongoing support of the school by the local community.
“This grant secures infused training that is needed by the industry right now,” Ward said.
The grant also covers any maintenance (janitorial) costs that may be incurred during the program, and all necessary liability insurance and permits.
“This is a great opportunity, not only for Westfield, but for the entire Western Mass. area,” said Kevin J. Sullivan, vice chairman of the Westfield School Committee.
With unanimous approval and support from the School Committee this week, as well as support from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Suzanne Scallion and WVTHS administrators, the school will host the training program three nights per week for 20 weeks over the course of one year. Ward said this totals 300 hours of training for participants upon completion. The Regional Employment Board plans to implement the training program in Westfield no later than this spring.
Providing this program means new jobs, Ward said, as well as tax revenue, both of which ultimately help to support the local community.
“This really is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “And it’s tough to get a win-win with anything these days…  especially in today’s economy.”

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