Meghan West Talks Veterans in Manufacturing With Hernán Luis Y Prado of Workshops for Warriors

Meghan West, President and CEO of Mastercam, sat down with Hernán Luis Y Prado, founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors (WFW), for a fireside chat on how to approach the looming skills gap in America. WFW is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing accredited skills training to returning veterans, certifying them in those skills, and placing them in advanced manufacturing positions all across the U.S. By providing Mastercam software to WFW, West hopes to help bridge the gap between unemployed veterans and the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that sit unfilled, a number expected to rise over 2 million in the next several years. The following is an excerpt from their discussion.

Hernan: How did you find out about WFW and how did you get started?

Meghan: I always get so excited to talk about WFW and get a chance to connect, because to me it truly has been part of my career from the beginning. I am the President of CNC Software, LLC, makers of Mastercam software, the most widely used CAM system in the world. Our passion and our purpose from the very beginning is the same today, and that’s to create toolpaths that drive CNC machine tools. Our mission is to create software and services that solve the world’s manufacturing challenges. And we’ve got plenty of manufacturing challenges here at home.

My first interaction with WFW was probably 11 or 12 years ago. Our director of education at the time heard about WFW and understood that it solved a big problem. I remember going to an education seminar, and everybody in the room acknowledged and agreed that there was a skills gap issue. We all talked about the problem, but I noticed no one really talked about a solution. I was introduced to Hernán and WFW, and I thought, “Here’s a solution. Here’s someone that’s actually doing something about the issue.” It was a really easy choice for me and for CNC Software to get involved, and I couldn’t be more humbled to be connected to it. Truly it solves two problems at once; it transitions veterans into civilian life and gives them careers, and it funnels skilled workers into the manufacturing industry.

Hernan: I’m so grateful to you, because when we started out, we had zero graduates. There were all these sub-tier CAM manufacturers that would say, “Well, we want to help, but…” and they didn’t offer anything substantive. I remember going to you and saying that what we’re doing is going to be in the best interest of America, and you didn’t even hesitate. Now we have almost a thousand graduates from our program who are placed with full-time jobs at companies like Boeing, Space-X, and Tesla. What would you tell your colleagues that want to help America the way you do?

Meghan: I’ve met so many people who say that manufacturing has changed their lives – people who didn’t have a career and didn’t know how to support their families before. At the end of the day, that’s what we all have to do—support our families. So, if that can also coincide with being able to support the American economy and the manufacturing industry, it’s such a win-win. The way I look at it is that everybody has to take ownership of the problem. It’s so easy to identify the problem, but it’s harder to take that next step. If we all took ownership of it and we all did our part, we would be a lot further along than we are today. WFW was already doing the heavy lifting. You already had a process in place and a passion and a mission. We were just here to help fuel that.

Hernan: I’d love to figure out how you and I can make people snap up, take notice, and realize how they engage. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Meghan: I’ve always got ideas! We’re doing a lot of things locally, like getting in contact with our local schools, because I think it’s a two-pronged approach. You have to create the training school, but you have to figure out a way to get people interested in going. I know that WFW is having no issues getting those student seats filled, but think about if this were scalable on a national level. Having people ready to take those training courses is step one. And it is never too early. We’ve got girl scouts coming into our office just to give them exposure and to give them an idea of what the opportunities are out there. Without that understanding, it’s just something that people don’t even consider as a career.

Hernan: I completely agree with you. I think part of that is that America has been somewhat gliding along on this manufacturing system that, in effect, was turned off 80 years ago after WWII. We’re only now realizing the impacts of that. I think what we need at a national level is nationally recognized credentials. When people go through our 16-week training program, they leave with those credentials from Mastercam, SOLIDWORKS, NIMS, and more that they can take anywhere. Have you seen a strong demand for those standards for people when they try to get a job?

Meghan: Yeah, absolutely. I think having that certification is an immediate signal that you’re ready to jump in and you don’t need to be trained. Let’s face it—training is expensive, and these manufacturing shops don’t have the time or the resources to train somebody to get them up and running. They need to be able to hire someone who can walk into their shop and immediately start running that machine, because time is money for them. It’s up to people like us to find ways to get those employees trained, whether that’s workforce development, partnering with different schools, etc. Manufacturing, no matter where you are in the country, no matter where you are in the world, is the same language.

Hernan: As a naval officer, I feel that every American has the right to serve somehow. There’s a civic responsibility, a moral obligation to help our society do better. One of the things I can’t stress enough for America is that we need these kinds of locations throughout the United States, like at WFW or city colleges. We need to have the opportunity for kids, teenagers, adolescents, at-risk youth, single moms, anyone to have access to advanced technology to spark their creativity and to ensure that the spirit of innovation in America continues to burn brighter and grow larger.

Dialogue has been edited for clarity and length. To watch the full chat, visit Inspiring Talk on How Providing Career Opportunities for Veterans Can Rebuild U.S. Manufacturing.