I went to a 4-year college because that was what I was supposed to do, and guess what? I left after 2 1/2 years.
I am part of a generation that was told that vocational schools were not an option, or that they were for those who had no chance of ever going to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and preferred learning by doing vs. sitting in a lecture hall. Now, by no means is this meant to discourage anyone from going to college or to say that college is a bad thing, more to enforce that not everyone needs to go to be successful. In an era where student loans are through the roof and it can be difficult to get an entry-level position, our youth needs to be made aware of what other opportunities are out there; and that is up to us, the employers.
As President of Peerless Precision, my main focus over the past 8 years has been to show students how cool it is to work at a machine shop! Our doors are always open to schools for tours of our facility to show students first-hand what it means to be a manufacturer in America. Peerless makes small, critical mechanical components for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical Device and Commercial Industries, to extremely close tolerances (.001″ – .000005″). While looking at any of the parts that we manufacture, it is nearly impossible to know what they are for, it is important to speak to the larger picture and create a narrative around why what we make is so important and cool.
That is how we can get them interested:
While we have a healthy mix of both CNC, NC and Manual Machines, I always start our tours out in the CNC departments. Starting with the computerized, high-tech equipment and seeing the machines in action really gets their interest sparked. From there, we always go into our NC and manual departments, because that is where the close tolerance magic happens. While the machines may not be as “fancy,” they really get to see the skills and talent that our team has developed in order to achieve those close tolerances that we are known for. We then move into inspection, where we have been making significant investments over the past 5 years to improve our efficiencies and when the students get to see one of our younger Inspectors demo our Instant Measurement System, their eyes just pop out! Now we start with high tech and we want to end with high tech, so I save our newest “cool” piece of machinery for last, our laser welder because lasers are just cool! We always have demo parts ready to go and the students get to take turns walking up and watching it in action. I always start with the fact that the weld is so fast (1.5 sec) that if you blink, you will miss it! Throughout these tours, I bring in as many of my under 30 team members (and we have a lot) into the conversations so they can explain what they are doing and why they are doing it and why they made the decision to become a Machinist and the opportunities that have come with it.
It is important to be involved with schools (Traditional, Vocational and Technical Colleges). I sit on multiple advisory and steering committees, participate in open houses and have become one of the go-to companies in our region for schools to reach out to place Co-Op students and interns. There has been a dynamic shift in the State of Massachusetts where more support for vocational awareness and education are starting to take place and innovation pathways are being introduced into traditional high schools, which is helping to bring the trades back. I am proud to say that I have been a part of helping to bring manufacturing back to two of our local high schools, and expect to see that number grow.
If you have the opportunity to speak to an Advocacy Group, State Legislator, School Committee, etc. on the importance of career technical education, take it, and share your story. If a school reaches out to you for a tour, to speak or to do an open house, do it and change the narrative.
It is the stories that we and our employees share about what we do and the paths that have led us to where we are that really drive home the importance of manufacturing in America.
Kristin Carlson, President