A Machinist’s Education

Hands-On Training at Symbol Job Training, Inc.

Recently I had a long conversation with Tom Peters of Symbol Job Training Inc., a CNC operator training school in Skokie, IL (a Chicago suburb). For $5,340 his firm will teach you to be a beginner CNC lathe and mill operator in just four months. The company was started by Alex Kogan, who previously had a CNC job shop. Kogan, and his daughter (Tom Peters’ wife) run the school.

I like the idea that the school is a for-profit enterprise, though I’m still happy there are also community colleges and public initiatives out there to train new machinists. The more help the better to develop the machining staff that is the lifeblood of our industry.

I was amused and annoyed by a recent New York Times piece carping about North Carolina spending $1 million to develop a training school for future Caterpillar employees. The Times decried the training as a government gift to Cat. The cruel fact is that training is a prerequisite for any decent paying manufacturing job. A factory needs power, roads, and people with skills.

Alex Kogan’s school in Skokie is hoping companies will pony-up the tuition money for students or that it can hook into State and Federal money that’s out there. Veterans are also eligible for training funds.

The tide is finally starting to turn for manufacturing in the U.S. We need Caterpillar’s training program and NIMS, and schools like Symbol Job Training and Vo-Tech to keep the sector’s momentum. We also need industry leaders to tout the strong future of manufacturing in the U.S., like Kennametal’s Carlos Cardoza did in his speech at the National Press Club this week.

I think we are at a pivotal point right now. Generally the public perception is still locked up in the view that American manufacturing is as dead as Detroit. But Detroit isn’t dead, it just moved to Ann Arbor—literally and figuratively. Let 1,000 flowers bloom to pollinate the future.

Should public spending subsidize training for big companies?

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19 thoughts on “A Machinist’s Education

  1. Hanan Fishman

    A wise man once said (or something like it): “If you think education is expensive, the cost of ignorance is much higher.”

    Clearly sponsoring training is a good idea, be it for big companies or small. Anything that creates a more educated manufacturing work force in this country is good. In reality, companies can likely figure our how to spend training money better than municipalities as companies have a built mechanism for creating accountability for the personnel whom they invest in where as municipalities, be they national, state or local do not.

  2. SVF

    I appreciate government projects to support training for start-up companies, I have used this on two occassions. However, I do not believe that established companies (older than 5 years old) should have their training funded by tax dollars. I am 100% in support of training and I believe it is a company’s obligation to provide training to their employees. I always budget for training in my businesses whether it be job specific or for improvement (tuition reimbursement). This is a business obligation and should not be a government hand out, I can offer up better uses of our tax dollars.

  3. Jerold P. Taxpn

    I whole heartedly support government funding for education in the machine tool industry wheather the funds go to manufactuers or schools the end result is our youth of today are being given the education they need to work in an industry that is sorely lacking in young blood. I have been in macinery and related industries for 43 years and see no new workers coming into our world. They all want to work with computers and not get their hands dirty.
    When there is a path through education,then young men and women will follow it to a rewarding future in the machine tool industry. I was told by my father that if you have a trade then you will never starve. This I feel is still true, we all have to work at bring back manufacturing to the USA. Funding for Trades Education is a solid start to that that goal.

  4. Bob Lindquist

    What makes this kind of manufacturing training any different from other college course work in business, finance, nursing, teaching, law enforcement, etc? Aren’t we already subsidizing big company training?

  5. Jake Worden

    AMEN Bob! Enough already with the Government subsidizing ANYTHING! Let capitalism and free markets work, and get the government out of our way. I don’t care if it’s a start up company, or a 100 year old company – if it is viable, it will grow (and train) its own employees. If it is not, it will die. (Solyndra was subsidized…the post office is subsidized… Social Security is subsidized… anyone else seeing a pattern here?)

    So to answer your questin: NO, the Government shouldn’t subsidize training – big or small.

  6. DEMojica

    One way or around the govt ends up paying for tech training. For every dollar that the govt spend on tech training post high school, needs to be taken away high school funding! Our public highs are worthless. What skill does a 12th grade grad comes out with?

  7. Jim Evans

    Any training or schooling beyond high school should be paid for by the recipient of the training. Subsidized schooling is important for low income students but not to be given away. I feel that if the training is company specific like for Caterpillar, they need to provide the training in house and develop the personnel to fit their needs and receive tax breaks for the training.
    We should move towards giving people credit for on the job training up to a level of at least an Associates Degree after a certain amount of on the job training, skill level, job specific longevity and accomplished testing.

  8. Tom Smith

    Give a person a handout and you will feed him for a day. Teach a person a skill and you will feed him for a lifetime.
    It’s not a government gift to Cat. It’s using the taxpayer’s money to developing the skills of the American workforce. They may work for Cat or any other employer who wants to manufacture products in the US. The bottom line is we are re-building our manufacturing base in our country. If we spent more of our tax dollars on education and training instead of entitlements we would be leading the world in manufacturing.

  9. Bob Long

    Why not start in the school system identifiying and promoting those who tend to be most inclined to the machining trades, then apprentice these youths in machine shops who would also pay for education beyond high school. The student would then be obligated by contract for stay for instance 5years with the shop who is paying for his / her education? It used to be called the apprentice system.

  10. Bruce Renwick

    It is a good question to ponder Lloyd. I’m not big on most government subsidies. I think State and local goverment have a right to spend there dollars on what they want to and I’m sure it helps when S.Carolina does this to bring in new jobs to the area. What local government wouldn’t want to make that deal with Cat? In the long run it helps the economy and if ran properly works well. One can look into this kind of training as an investment into the future that is well worth it. It is when Washinton DC gets involved that it becomes a huge waste. ( IE: Solyndra and the Postal service.) On the other hand, Catapillar once had it’s own training program in place that seemed to have worked well for it for years, maybe even decades, why could they not go back to that and foot there own bill?
    I find it amusing that the NY Times can find government spending that they don’t like, and at the same time I seem to be able to find goverment spending I can get behind.
    It is a complex world after all.

  11. Robert Bayer

    I used to be sent all over the United States to train Machinists..
    Our program would take a person straight out of Walmart or a Grocery store starting at Square 1 and have them where they could do basic setups on either lathes, mills or multi-axis swiss type machine, in 8 weeks. Out of 187 people I trained, 185 passed.
    To pass what was required is a written test and then having to do a setup from start to finished part, then to inspect the part 100% visually and dimensionally and it had to be a good part. We worked theu various programs including inccumbant worker training, Workforce Florida, The State of Ohio Jobs Bank (for retraining of displaced workers).
    All classes were college credited. Very successful program. Made several friends and helped out several companies with this program.

    Program was setup and designed to “break even” not make money and to help our country, the good old USA however corporate greed killed it.
    The company decided to cancel the program because it did not turn a profit.
    New management took over the company and did not see the value in doing things for free. The company was a machine tool distributer. The best word I can think of to describe the new management is “Idiots”.


    At one contract in Florida was a agreement to purchase (50) new swiss-type
    machines at $230,000 each IF they could get 150 people trained to run
    the machines for 3 shifts.
    Classes were arranged in 10 people per class for new hires off the street.
    After the first round of classes, the company saw the value in the training.
    Decided ALL of thier Machinists would have to go thru the program.
    (I was the Trainer / Instructor)
    Agreement was made to handle it. No problem.

    Modified the existing program / book only classes they used to machine specific training.
    Added additional training particular to the plants manufacturing processes and documentation. Changed it for a 100% “Classroom” program to a 60% “Hand on at the machine” 40% Classroom setting.
    Changed up to take the existing people first.
    With the amount the people learned, thier productivity went up almost 40%.
    (Medical Manufacturing Facility in Palm Beach Gardens Florida)
    The program was so sucessful, the company offered me a position with them to head there new training programs which I could not accept because of a non-compete clause in my contract.
    At any rate, it was a very successful program and I would come to your facility for and evaulation of needs of the business unit / company and a discussion regarding the training with Engineering and Management and what they wanted and what I would notice during my evaulation and molded a custom training program for each tailored to thier needs.

    Regarding my expenses, wages, ect it was at a “break even” level for the training division. No profit or loss. Within 5%.

    The bean counters did not take into account the 14% markup of profit
    on the $11,500,000.00 they sold in brand new machine tools from our Sales Division.
    ($1,610.000 profit plus installation charges and future sales of spares, service, ect)
    Keep in mind this is only at 1 company, however it was the largest contract for the training division. There were several contracts.

    All the bean counter saw was the Training Division
    was not turning a profit so they closed it.
    As I said “Idiots”

    They also noticed thet the customers productivity was up, machine crashes and accidents were down so the customers could make more with less, less repair / service calls because the people were better trained and performed better.
    They did not take into account that this made thier customers more competative and more successful and thus more business was coming their way and they were growing.

    Sadly disappointed in Beancounters. Pretty short sighted overall.
    For the efforts, my position was eliminated and not allowed to take
    the position offered because of the non-compete agreement.
    American Business.

  12. Doug Gyure

    You have to strip away each persons perception and bias and see what the outcome is. The NY Times was upset because they saw a “big business” getting an advantage, somehow they missed out on the fact that the trainees got jobs. More than just the Cat job they learned skills that will assure them of a decent living wherever they go. Funny thing is I thought the news was supposed to report the news by stripping away the bias, sadly the newspaper industry is failing the nation tremendously by being so biased left, with the NY Times leading the way.

    The simple fact is when training programs are put in schools they need to know there will be enough students to make the course worthwhile. That is where the Public/Private partnerships work to make those available to work fit the jobs available to do. It is highly unlikely the students would only be qualified to work at one company.

  13. Daniel Vincent Dvorak

    We MUST correct the Nations course before any talk of government largess. Besides, what makes sense about the government subsidising trade education only to export the job to a foreign country in the end? In the short term, until the US re-defines itself as a producing country, a manufacturing country and back to the industrial might it once was, we will have to act independently ourselves back to industry IN SPITE of government and ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT plans and find a way to create products and services, some old and some new and the training and education necessary for that goal must come from individual investment, corporations with long range goals of staying in the USA, using US materials and US workers, and part of that investment should be in the grooming and moulding of a new workforce. Perhaps the training could come directly from those companies. I know if I was in charge of that kind of business, I would love to have control of the training.
    Also, in general, I think the tariff for these classes is just too steep. $5300 is criminal. In one month flat, a young mind and body will be more than able to operate CNC machinery. Now computer skills and making the program is different. That operation is always carried out as a seperate process.
    Counciling in high school and even early college should include avenues to skilled jobs and not just cerebal concerns. Manual dexterity is appreciated during an entire lifetime. Computer skills will be useful in ALL endavours, and math skills are the universal language. These skills should be core classes early on, making the leap from possible NFL to something that can feed and take care of an entire lifetime.

  14. Stephen Eddy

    Sure, the better educated machinist, the better a worker he will be. Whether industry or government pays the tab for education is less important than the results of the education. However, the newly -trained machinist shouldn’t be faced with a job market that isn’t there or that demands more skills than those he has accumulated in either the classroom or the shop floor. Back when I trained to become a machinist, I could have used all of the help I could have gotten from anywhere. The goal of the vocational school I attended was to get me working as soon as possible – nevermind if I knew how to perform the job or not. As long as my name was on a payroll someplace, they were happy. That will not cut it in today’s industry – especially when work is continuing to flow overseas to be done at bargain-basement costs by workers who have received training from the government of their countries. If they do it, we should, too.

  15. Matt Klecka

    I don’t believe in government subsidies as I don’t feel the government should have a role in picking winners and losers. Solyndra is the prime example of what results when the government interferes with the invisible hand of the free market economy. However, the fact of the matter is the modus operandi of the government will never change re: spending, government interference. Given that the transformational change the nation requires will never occur, I’m ok with training programs as long as the funding is reallocated from another existing entitlement program. If the government is going to be involved, it needs to incent people to work/produce, not sit around collecting unemployment while playing X-Box on their new big screen TV’s.

    Matt Klecka

  16. Arthur

    In the old days, companies directly sponsored their training through apprenticeship programs. Henry Ford learned his machine skills this way. If companies aren’t going to train employees directly, and they are going to dissolve unions (and thus the union apprenticeship programs), there needs to be some means of training teenagers and young people for the machine trades.

    Regular public schools no longer teach shop skills; trades are now only taught at special “trade schools”. Given that public education is “for the common good”, some means of public education (even if paid in part by taxpayers) is in the best interest of ANY country.

  17. James Thompson

    how much does it cost us to send someone to college to study something that they will never use. Communications to work at Wall Mart or photography to work for the post office that is a misallication of scarce resources


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