Machining Professional at 19: Meet Lucas Leclerc

Lucas Leclerc is a machining professional, but his love of manufacturing began at a very young age. He was fascinated by the parts his father Chris Leclerc, Swiss Product Specialist at CNC Software, Inc., brought home and loved to learn about how they were made.

“I knew I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. I’ve always enjoyed getting creative and making things.”

Choosing Pathfinder Regional Technical High School in Palmer, Massachusetts, was a given for Leclerc. The vocational school provides educational opportunities for students in grades 9 through 12 from any of its nine-member towns. Its 16 technical programs include Culinary Arts, Business Technology, and Collision Repair, and each student graduates with both a high school diploma and a technical certificate.

“Over their four-year course of study, Pathfinder students complete robust academic coursework, learn program-specific skills, earn industry credentials, and acquire professional skills that will give them a real-world competitive advantage,” said Eric Duda, Pathfinder Assistant Superintendent and Principal. Leclerc applied to the Advanced Manufacturing program, was accepted, and immediately began to exceed expectations.

The machining program at Pathfinder teaches students by using hands-on projects. Leclerc shared that he made his own tools during his time at school—a brass hammer, a drift punch, tap wrenches, scribes, a parallel set, and 1-2-3 blocks. He also competed in the SkillsUSA Automated Manufacturing division, which challenges a three-person team to complete a job from start to finish.

“The team takes a 2D drawing, and the draftsperson turns it into a 3D solid model and passes the model to the CAM software tech who makes a G-code program for the CNC operator to run. Lucas’s function on the team was in the CAM segment, using Mastercam to create his programs,” said Doug Bachand, Pathfinder Advanced Manufacturing teacher. Lucas and his team placed bronze at the state level three years in a row.

Lucas Leclerc competes in the SkillsUSA Automated Manufacturing division, which challenges a three-person team to complete a job from start to finish.

Midway through a Pathfinder student’s junior year, they are eligible for entry into a co-op. “Pathfinder’s Cooperative Work Program allows students to work in a real-world, paid work placement within their field for 30+ hours every other week in place of their technical programming,” shared Advanced Manufacturing teacher, Keith Gilman. Leclerc naturally applied as soon as he could and was quickly hired as a CNC machinist.

While their college peers may wait years to find steady work in their chosen fields, Pathfinder graduates need not worry about employment. “Many Pathfinder graduates are employed at graduation or shortly after, yet others choose to enter into professional apprenticeship programs, pursue advanced technical training, embark on post-secondary endeavors at college or university, or opt to enter into a branch of the United States armed forces,” said Director of Guidance & Admissions Brenda Turner.

Graduates have the added benefit of having earned their OSHA 10 credentials, which give them a distinct advantage over their peers from other programs. Leclerc graduated with an earned position at laboratory equipment manufacturer Adaptas Solutions in Palmer, Massachusetts.

According to President and CEO Jay Ray, “Adaptas specializes in critical components and products that are used in the analytical and clinical laboratory equipment markets. These markets are cutting edge for drug discovery and routine analysis.”

Leclerc currently does set-up work in the mill department, getting machines ready to run various types of manifolds and their components, and even dabbling in some prototyping. With the strong foundation Pathfinder built in him, Leclerc is sure to do well.

“His abilities are exceptional with a great understanding of his building blocks,” continued Ray. “He has generated immediate respect from his peers, but equally shows respect for their contributions as being experienced machinists.”

As an industry expert and an employer of 150 people, Ray knows better than most how important programs like Pathfinder’s are to the manufacturing workforce, which is in dire need of capable young people. “Vocational programs are vital to manufacturing growth and development in the United States. The hands-on approach and opportunities they provide young students is tremendous. We are a big fan of these programs and have supported them for the past 25 years,” he said.

The instructional team from Pathfinder agrees. The cost of college continues to grow, but many trade careers pay the same or even more than jobs that require a four-year degree (and most likely several years of experience). “Secondary institutes such as Pathfinder are more critical than ever,” said Al Putnam, Advanced Manufacturing department head and teacher. “We are proud that our graduates have the ability to learn and work alongside industry professionals and do not have to incur any debt to gain employable skills that can lead to a lifelong career.”

Anyone who needs more convincing can take a look at Leclerc. “I would tell anyone considering this field to go for it. People look at me like I am crazy when I tell them I’m only 19 and married. They’re also surprised when they see my car, and now they’re going to be even more surprised when I invite them over to the house I own,” he said. “These things are what motivates me to wake up and go to work every day, because your dreams don’t work unless you do.”