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Grant boosts manufacturing

Date: 3/30/2012

March 28, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — Precision manufacturing companies in the Pioneer Valley will have the opportunity to hone their competitive edge, thanks in part to a recent education grant from the Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo).

David Cruise, director of Business and Employment Services for the Regional Employment Board of Hampden county, Inc (REB), told Reminder Publications the $10,000 grant, which was presented during an event at Ben Franklin Design in Agawam on March 14, would allow the REB to provide additional training to a total of 65 incumbent employees from local companies producing products for the aerospace, medical device, defense industry and other markets.

The grant, Cruise said, was used as "match money" to supplement a $150,00 grant the REB and the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the National Tooling Machining Association (WMNTMA) received in October 2001, from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative John Adams Innovation Institute.

The REB has 177 employees from a total of 53 local manufacturing companies in a combination of non-credit and college credit training programs currently, including 28 funded by the WMECo grant. The remainder of that money will allow another 37 employees to begin training courses in September, Cruise said. This cycle of training represents a 31 percent increase over past requests for training.

"The demand for these courses is exceptionally high and the funding allowed us to increase the number of employees trained," he said. "Companies need to make sure incumbent employees have the competencies to respond to the new manufacturing processes that are required in manufacturing today."

Among the training opportunities Cruise said the REB offers are eight skills enhancement courses, including a computer aided manufacturing (CAM) programming class at William J. Dane Technical High School in Holyoke and a solid works course at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. The organization also assists employees to take college- level training such as a quality concepts course offered at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC).

"We're hoping that [employees] will continue to take courses that will allow them to get an associate's degree" or certificate, he added.

Cruise said though the REB funds the tuition for the credit and non-credit courses, employees take the additional training on their own time.

"It's a serious commitment on their part," he said.

REB's employee training program is a "win-win" for both workers and companies, who are now often being asked by contractors to "do more value-added work — not just machining components but assembling some of those components," Cruise said.

This up-tick in the skills needed for the valley's precision manufacturing firms to remain competitive is one of the reasons Cruise said the grant from WMECo is so important to the REB.

"They recognize the importance of this industry and are willing to commit resources to help," he said.

In a press release about the grant, WMECo President and Chief Operating Officer Peter J. Clarke said his company was "pleased to make a contribution to education that will stimulate growth for small and medium sized precision manufacturing companies," boosting the area's employment picture through "sustained job creation and continued economic development."

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