Made in the Stateline: TechWorks

ROCKFORD - Manufacturing is growing in Rockford and across the country.  One sign is the number of job openings.  Some experts say there are so many open jobs because there aren't enough qualified people to hire.  But, a local program hopes to change that.

Gordy Blaisdell may not be a foreign language teacher, but that's part of what students learn in his TechWorks class, the language of manufacturing.  He's got 40 years of experience to share.  The seven week Rock Valley College program at the school's Samuelson Road Center teaches job readiness, but also core skills manufacturers want: safety, blueprint reading, shop math, and measuring.

"[They] apply those skills to gain employment into our manufacturing sector as an entry level CNC machines setup operator," said Blaisdell.

Ryan Hobson moved to Rockford recently from Florida to be a carpenter's apprentice.  He, instead, enrolled at RVC for Information Technology, then he heard about TechWorks.

"So, I can do this program, get a good job that pays well, then maybe pursue a two year degree part-time," said Hobson.

Kasondra Vernetti is a life-long Rockford resident.  The Army veteran took advantage of a program to help vets get job training by learning new skills.

"I'm learning the value of some Trigonometry and some fractions that I learned in 5th grade that I'm learning now again and how they have a common everyday application in our machine world."

Students learn on CNC machines.  Some of them are on loan from the companies that make the equipment.  It actually helps those manufacturers sell more machines.

"They don't run themselves," said Blaisdell.  "There's so many of us.  People like myself, that are baby boomers that are retiring and there's just not enough people to replace us.  They can sell machines, but there's no skilled people to learn how to operate them."

TechWorks classes are eight students per session.  Gordy says they could make class sizes 80 and still not meet the need.  Students earn credentials and certifications from NIMS, but that's not automatic.

"It's not a piece of paper that says they took a class," said Gordy.  "They have to document and do three complete setups on a CNC piece of equipment.  Every step of the way... every button they push on the machine is documented.  They have to do it not once, not twice, but three times."

TechWorks gets some of its direction from an advisory board made up of local companies to make sure the program's teaching the skills companies need.


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