Manufacturer dials into workforce training

Autocam Medical recently sent 13 students through the program at Western Michigan University’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Lab in downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy Riparea Videography

If you want something done right, do it yourself — such is the philosophy on display at Autocam Medical when it comes to creating a skilled workforce.

The Kentwood-based contract manufacturer of precision surgical and medical components and devices has for the past several years participated in a CNC Machinist Apprentice Program in which it sends entry-level or other workers to Grand Rapids Community College to receive classroom instruction and training in computer numerical control (CNC) machining.

The year-round program covers the education required by the state of Michigan to receive a certified journeyman card in CNC machining. Students must complete 728 hours of classroom instruction in 91 weeks. They maintain a full work schedule while training over a two-year period. Upon completion of the program, they earn 27 college credits, which puts them on the path to receive an associate degree.

Autocam Medical’s most recent batch of 13 apprentices were awarded certificates of completion in a graduation ceremony held June 12 at Western Michigan University’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Lab at 200 Ionia Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids — a $3 million manufacturing lab that opened last fall where students in the program now receive training and hone their skills.

Six of Autocam Medical’s 2019 graduates received their journeyman card upon program completion — because they had already completed the requisite 8,000 hours of field experience — and the other seven graduates are working to complete their hours.

The 2019 Autocam Medical graduating class includes Joshua Bos, Kevin Bultman, Nicholas Calhoun, Jacob Estrada, Mitchell Ferguson, Phillip Kasper, Scott Kok, Daniel Martinez, Benjamin Page, Jean Reynoso-Rodriguez, Jerrittia Roseburgh, Taylor Sluiter and Alexander Stenberg.

Ferguson was one of Autocam Medical’s six 2019 graduates to receive a journeyman machinist card.

“Autocam Medical is an amazing company to work for, and I am so grateful for the opportunity they gave me to go through the machinist apprenticeship,” he said. “The apprenticeship was such a great experience and opened my eyes to the world of manufacturing.”

He added the class being hands-on made it a “fun, easy way” to learn and build the necessary skills to benefit himself as a worker, as well as his employer.

“We need to help spread the word about classes and opportunities like this and get more people into skilled trades,” he said. 

Autocam Medical runs two classes at a time in the apprenticeship program and is looking to fill another class for 2020.

Andy Beach, a 20-year industry veteran and senior CNC machinist and programmer, has a contract with GRCC to train the students in the program; this was his third year.

“It’s a unique program, and it’s really fantastic for the (students) to stay together for the full two years and go through it as one group, as opposed to the traditional apprenticeship schooling … (where) you work and then as you find time, you take the different classes you need to get your journeyman’s,” he said.

Autocam Medical’s most recent graduates presented Beach with a lightsaber featuring a stand they machined themselves.

“Getting to know and work with the students over that time period is a reward in itself,” he said. “At the end, I am blessed to consider them friends and honored to welcome them into the workforce as journeyman machinists.”

According to John Kennedy IV, general manager of Autocam Medical, his company covers the cost of the training for its students, and the only requirement is that the trainees remain employed at Autocam Medical while they are in the program. There is no retention contract after they finish.

He said Autocam Medical could have set up a training lab in-house, but it had for a while been working with the state of Michigan, GRCC and WMU to create the AMP Lab @ WMU for the good of the community.

“If we would have had that all within in our facility, nobody else in the community could share in the ability to use that equipment for education,” he said. “Whereas this way, other businesses, other community members can also use that equipment and use those facilities for learning and development.”

Kennedy said workers who go through the program will learn fundamentals of metal cutting and forming, operating machines and equipment, and all the other skills that go into achieving the precision products made by Autocam Medical.

Currently, the only other manufacturer taking advantage of the apprenticeship program through GRCC is Autocam Precision Components NN in Kentwood (a separate company from Autocam Medical).

Kennedy said he has heard from GRCC that they would like to see more businesses get on board.

“We’ve found this is a great way for us to build both great engineers and great machinists, so we would encourage other businesses to continue to either work through the AMP partnership or to work with the folks at Western and GRCC to try to build great programming to help them build great teams,” he said.

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