Los Angeles NTMA Training Centers to Celebrate 50 Year Anniversary in early 2018

Last month, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the NTMA Training Centers in Santa Fe Springs, which was founded “to address the ever-increasing need for machinists to replace their retiring workforce.”

I met with J.R. Ragaisis, Exec. Director of Education and Training, and Carey Knutson, Exec. Director of Accounting and H.R. Carey emailed me info on the historical background of the Training Centers.  From the written history, I learned that Seymour Lehrer and Del Molinari led the charge to develop the Center in 1968 with the backing of the National Association organization. Members of the Southern California Tool & Die Association (later known as the Los Angeles NTMA) generously donated machining equipment and made a donation of $4,800 to get the Training Center started. This means that on February 1, 2018, the Center will celebrate its 50th anniversary!

I really liked that the goal of the Training Centers was “to transition tax-takers into tax-payers, by training them for a career in machining.”  J.R. Ragaisis, said, “The Training Centers was a step toward creating something unheard of at the time: to develop specialized training by industry for industry.”

It was amazing to me that the training program and school survived several recessions in the last 50 years and that no other centers were ever established in other parts of the country. J.R. said, “We have been contacted by others to set up other training centers in their areas, but nothing ever materialized.”

As he gave our group the tour, JR said, “In 1999, we set up a second training center in Ontario, (also in Southern California.); currently, the NTMA Training Centers have two state-of- the-art campuses with fully equipped machine shops, modern computer labs, and all the supplies and materials needed to train for machining. Both campuses are designed to emulate actual machine shops; we have machine tools and equipment leading industry employers use while accommodating students with spacious work stations and ample break areas indoors and outdoors.”

The Santa Fe Springs facility is a two-story building with classrooms, offices, and a large meeting room upstairs, and all of the machining equipment downstairs.  J. R. said that both training centers have many training programs available to service individuals and the manufacturing community ranging from entry level training to advanced programs for existing employees. Some of the training can be funded by what manufacturers have already paid into the Employment Training Fund through their employment taxes.  The NTMA Centers are currently on their 35th contract from the Employment Training Panel of California. For a nominal $250 in-kind contribution from employers for books, and tapping into their paid tax assessments, we will train your workforce to enhance and enrich your productivity.”

He explained that in the basic Machinist Training program, students learn the set up and operation of conventional machining equipment such as grinders, mills, lathes, drill presses, and saws. Instruction time is divided between classroom, computer lab, and shop, providing a unique blend of practical theory and hands-on experience. Instruction includes; quality control and inspection procedures, shop theory, precision measuring instruments, mathematics, blueprint reading, and basic CNC operations. Upon graduation, students may find entry-level machinist employment as an operator of a lathe, mill, grinder, drill press, etc. in the machining and tooling industry. In addition, our machinist classes are usually about 15 students per session, of which we run 3 sessions per day.”

I told him that for more than 70 years, the only place to get machinist training was in San Diego at San Diego City College, where most of the students were grabbed up as fast as they graduated by companies like Solar Turbines. Now, we also have the MiraCosta Technical Career Center in Carlsbad.  Since I have always represented machine shops as a manufacturer’s sales rep., I know there has been a shortage of CNC lathe operators for more than 20 years in the San Diego area.

I asked if the classes incorporate any training in Lean Manufacturing, and he said, “We emphasize 5S + 1 of Lean, in which the +1 stands for “Safety.” We teach safety first, and all the students are trained on the safety protocol for each piece of equipment from a hack saw to a CNC machine. Meaning, students have to sign off on what they learned before they can use any of the equipment.”

J.R. provided me information on what kinds of advanced training they provide for existing manufacturing employees:

Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM) – This course is designed to provide students with the principles and practices in the operation of a CMM.

Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software package called MastercamThis course bundles theoretical knowledge that the students bring into the course applying a computer-generated graphic of manufactured components for machining. The course is designed for machinists who have no computer aided manufacturing background.

Computerized Numerical Control (CNC)This course develops the skills to perform fundamental operations of CNC Mills/CNC Lathes, emphasizing on the basic operation of the machinery, process, and shop safety. The course is designed for machinists who have no CNC machining background.

Inspection This course develops the skills to perform fundamental inspection techniques, emphasizing on third angle projection of blueprints and applying basic concepts of inspection techniques through the use of indicators, micrometers, optical comparator, and the CMM. The course is designed for individuals who have no inspection experience

I asked J.R. if they provide any training for veterans, and he said, “We provide training in the machining, tooling and manufacturing industry for all veterans, who have or are serving in any branch of the U.S Military.  We recognize the unique situation that veterans may face transitioning and readjusting into their life out of the military. We do everything possible to assist them in the transition while enrolled in our programs.” The website states: “There are Veteran Education Benefits available to you if:

  • You have served in the military
  •  Currently serving in the military
  •  You are an eligible dependent of a veteran
  •  You are a spouse of a veteran receiving benefits”

J.R. said, “We start new classes every few weeks, and a class just started on December 6th, and another class will start January 29th.  We have a modular program of five modules, and each module is six weeks in length. It takes students seven months to complete all of the modules, and they graduate with certification as an entry level machinist with an 86% job placement rate for graduates. We are currently in a transition mode; for the first time in years, we need more students to keep up with the demand.  Manufacturers are calling us to find out when we will have new graduates, instead of us calling them to fill job openings.

After visiting this training center, I recommend that other NTMA chapters around the country reconsider establishing a training center in their region.  They could partner with their local community college on training programs as well as apprenticeship programs. They could also partner with their local SME chapter (formerly the Society of Manufacturing Engineers) because SME is heavily involved in partnering with high schools for training in manufacturing skills.  NTMA wouldn’t have to start from scratch because SME’s ToolingU has modular curriculum available for use in the training programs.

We need more collaboration between industry associations and educational institutions at the high school and college level if we are going to solve the skills gap and attract the next generation of manufacturing workers.

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