Left to right: BCC Professor John Tatro, Taconic teacher Lawrence Michalenko, BCC Vice President for Community Education Bill Mulholland, PERC President J. Jay Anderson, Taconic teacher Mark Lausier, Pittsfield Public School Superintendent Jake McCandless, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz, BCC President Ellen Kennedy, Barbara Chaput of the Berkshire applied Technology Council and Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Taconic High School is getting a quarter of a million dollars in modern manufacturing equipment.
On Tuesday, school, business and political leaders celebrated the investment, which they believe will help create the pipeline of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing.
Berkshire Community College headed the effort of using $150,000
of a federal grant to purchase two computer numerical control machines — one milling and one turning — a robot arm, a material storage and assembly pallet, conveyor belt and 3D printer.
Taconic used that purchase as a match for an additional $100,000 in state grants for two more machines, which are on order.
The purchases upgrade the manufacturing labs to match industry standards.
According to Michael Supranowicz, CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the upgrades create the pipeline of experienced workers, which is the "missing tool in the toolbox" for attracting modern manufacturing companies to the city.
"We now have the technology we need to attract companies here," he said.
Supranowicz said the Berkshires already has most of the resources needed to attract a big company but has been falling short with workers with the right skills to take those jobs. Leaders from the political business and education field have now put a focus on educating students for the modern workplace.
"We are going to be preparing these young adults to go into the workplace," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said. "I think there is a great future for advanced manufacturing."
The city has particularly put focus on bringing advanced manufacturing to the William Stanley Business Park. The former General Electric land is now vacant and the city has already been awarded a grant to do a feasibility study on putting an science center there. But manufacturing today isn't the same as it once was.
William Mulholland, BCC vice president for community education and work-force development, said while manufacturing took a hit during the recession, the highly skilled jobs remain. In Massachusetts, manufacturing is only 10 percent of business but accounts for more payroll than hospitality and retail combined, he said. Advanced manufacturing provides a "firm foundation" for future business growth, he said.
"There is a wonderful livelihood in advanced manufacturing," Mulholland said. "[Companies] want a thinking worker and we're going to develop these skills in this new educational facility."
J. Jay Anderson, president of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., said a recent study commissioned by PERC identified that the city is in a prime position to grow in the manufacturing field. But that study also showed that with an aging population in the county, there aren't enough people fill the jobs.
"Manufacturing in the Berkshires is not dead," Anderson said. "Finding skilled workers is a challenge."
The machines will be used for both Taconic High School students and for night and weekend classes from Berkshire Community College. The shared usage is part of an articulation agreement between the two educational facilities.
"Putting it here at Taconic will create a pipeline," BCC President Ellen Kennedy said. "This is where it is going to start."
Taconic teachers Lawrence Michalenko and Mark Lausier explain the technology and how it can help the students.
During a demonstration, BCC professor John Tatro explained that the curriculum comes with the programs. The students start learning the old-fashioned milling techniques and then move onto the advanced machines.
After learning the tools and the how the machines work, students can design a piece and the 3D printer melts plastic and builds a miniature version of it.
From there, the students can use either the milling machine for blocks or the turning machine for metal. The students are taught to program the computer to create the designs. The pallet and conveyor belt moves blocks or metal into the machines, where they are carved.
While previously workers needed the skills to actually carve the blocks, now they need to be computer savvy to program the machines.
"I can't get over how much excitement there is with the students," Taconic manufacturing teacher Lawrence Michalenko said, adding that the software talks the students through "baby steps" so anyone can learn the technology.
He added that the school is already looking into expanding the number and types of classes. Pittsfield Public School Superintendent Jake McCandless said the transition from school to work is becoming more seamless every day.
Barbara Chaput, of Berkshire applied Technology Council, now hopes that the increased number of trained workers will create excitement around the county's manufacturing industry. She, along with the others who spoke, are trying to "spread the message" that there is a future in manufacturing.