Partnership boosts program seeking recruits for machinist trade Officials worry that field 'is hemorrhaging jobs'

June 04, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

The way employers see it, the machinist trade has gotten a bad name -- so bad that hardly anyone considers it as a career, even as it becomes more high-tech and high-salary.

"Our field is literally hemorrhaging jobs," said Norman Gaither, an advanced engineering manager at Kenlee Precision Corp. in Morrell Park.

But Gaither and officials at 15 other manufacturing companies in the Baltimore area think they've found a remedy: Yesterday, they pledged to help a 17-year-old program that takes people with little or no experience and brings them up to speed on lathes, blueprints and metalworking.

Through the newly announced partnership, students can learn the trade free on state-of-the-art machines in the Machinist Training Program at Catonsville Community College -- and might have jobs waiting for them at the end of the four- to six-month course.

To the 20 students enrolled in the program, that's good news. And those involved with the initiative hope others -- especially those who might not have considered a job as a machinist -- will think so, too.

"We were trying to think of ways to attract more people to the program," said Sara R. Trenery, work force development coordinator for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, which helped put the partnership together.

She said the course, which is set up so a participant can enter any time and work at his or her own pace, has been far below its capacity of 80 students a year.

"We've got to get the word out to people in the general hTC population that this business is not what it once was," she said. "It's not dirty, there's good money to be made, and there are jobs waiting."

The program, based at Catonsville and jointly run by the college and the county's Offices of Employment and Training, was previously funded by federal money. That meant some potential students -- particularly those already employed -- weren't eligible for free education. Some, but not many, decided to pay the $4,100 tuition themselves. But, with the assistance from area businesses, interested students should be able to obtain funding.

Under the initiative, which is unique for a training school, the businesses promise to provide scholarships for students, keep curriculums up-to-date and hire at least some graduates.

Students can enroll without paying, and the companies pledge to cover the tuition costs of graduates they hire. A handful of the students enrolled in the five-day-a-week program were admitted free recently under the new partnership.

Students bring diverse career experience to the program -- most of it in fields unrelated to the machinist trade, from fast food to boat-canvas-making.

Wendy Smero managed a bridal store but lost her job of 14 years when the company went out of business. Although the Rosedale resident didn't know much about machinery, she thought she might do well in the field.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Smero, 36, who began with the program a week ago and was cutting and milling metal yesterday. "I don't like not working."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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