Machine shop training returns to St. Mary

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Members of the latest Leadership St. Mary class have implemented a plan to assist area manufacturing. Working in conjunction with South Central Louisiana Technical College, the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the leadership program, has now organized basic drafting and machine shop classes through South Central Louisiana Technical College to benefit area business.

Classes begin Monday and are designed to equip participants with basic machine shop skills. The plan is to provide area manufacturers with needed qualified workers.

“We’re excited,” said St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce President Donna Meyer, who also participated in the leadership group. “We started thinking of manufacturing companies that we had not visited. We found that they needed qualified employees.”

By organizing efforts between local machine shops and SCLTC, the chamber was able to help secure a training opportunity specific to local manufacturing needs. “With this [industry] will be able to have a pool of skilled workers,” Meyer said.

The training program includes 30 class hours of applied mathematics, 24 hours of measurement training, 18 hours of blueprint reading and 12 hours covering high-tech power tool speeds and feeds.

“Everything you see offshore was built by the southern United States – Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida,” Apex CNC owner Scott Tudury said. “It wasn’t built in some factory up north.”

Tudury said his Morgan City operation is typical of manufacturers needing workers, but straining because of a lack of qualified applicants. “We have a huge manufacturing base here in the southern United States and we can’t get labor.”

SCLTC had canceled general machine shop training in 1983 because of a downturn in the oil industry and educational budget cuts. “There weren’t any jobs at the time, so nobody wanted to take the class, but it never was brought back,” Tudury said.

While technical colleges in Houma and Lafayette have grown in manufacturing training, the Morgan City technical college has not yet caught up with the return of demand – until now.

“We are [as a result of the Chamber influence] looking at ramping up our efforts for machining [and] automated fabrication,” SCLTC Director James Sawtelle said.

Sawtelle, who came to his position on July 1, said the SCLTC mission is to serve business and industry partners and provide a trained workforce. “We have a guarantee that when we provide a graduate the level of training they have will be ready to work on day one or we retrain them at our own cost. Not at the industry or student cost,” he said.

“I could take a guy that goes over [to SCLTC] and learns the basic skills and bring that person in that already knows how to read a blueprint, micrometer and tape measure and teach them what I need them to do,” Tudury said. “If I have additional personnel to put in front of my machines I can grow my business.”

Tudury explained that members of Leadership St. Mary toured his business, listened to his challenges and from their numbers designed a plan to assist this and other local manufacturers.

“I’ve spoken with the other machine shops in the area and we went to the school and told them we need this,” Tudury said. “So, they are proceeding with this because of the influence the chamber and Leadership St. Mary.”

“We will respond to business and industry,” Sawtelle said. “It is our goal to evolve with business and industry and be able to serve their needs.”

“We saw a need and are doing something about it,” Meyer said. “I think what we are doing is wonderful.”

“The beautiful thing is we have input on what the students are being taught, because it is a customized course for manufacturers,” Tudury said. “My goal is to get it working here. Then we can show that people coming out of this class are meaningful employees … then the state of Louisiana benefits.”

Apex CNC employee Dale Pierce checks the working parts of a lathe to show that daily machine shop work still involves basic maintenance skills. His example is of the practical skills being taught through a new program sponsored by the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce.