Teacher to Teacher with Jim Clarke

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a greater emphasis on the word “automation” in the curriculum of our Automated Manufacturing Technology program. My name is Jim Clarke, and I’m an instructor at the A. I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford, Connecticut, where this program is addressing the needs of local employers as we hone the skills of our eager students.

In years past, we stressed manual machining operations in the courses available to the freshman class. Our Advisory Committee, comprised of owners and managers of a cross section of Connecticut manufacturing companies, suggested we back off on the amount of manual machining we teach and begin concentrating on CNC programming and machining much earlier in the program. They said this would be much more valuable to them when hiring our graduates for positions on their shop floors and that manual operations had been pretty much eliminated in favor of today’s advanced technologies.

Heeding their advice, we now teach CNC programming and machining starting with the freshman class and continuing through their graduation. In addition to several CNC milling machines, machining centers and turning centers, we have 36 seats of Mastercam programming software in our CAD/CAM lab because Mastercam is what most of our advisors have in their own facilities to program their precision parts and components.

We are very fortunate in the attention our manufacturing advisors pay to our program and to our individual students. About a dozen or so turn out for our regular meetings, and I encourage attendance by our students. It’s not unusual for a student to leave a meeting with a job offer.

One suggestion I could make would be to engage interested manufacturers in one-on-ones beyond the scope of the scheduled committee meeting. I get a lot of good advice from them over a slice of pizza after hours. I’ve even had a few of them on my boat for a fishing-and-advice trip now and then. The results have been terrific.

If we’re short on materials or tooling, one phone call is all it takes and one of these good folks sends someone right over with whatever we need to bring our projects to completion. Because of the close relationship we have with local industry, our graduates are readily accepted into positions utilizing their new skills. For example, six of our grads are employed at Carey Manufacturing, Inc. in nearby Cromwell, Connecticut. One of the six, Millie Ramirez, is a 2015 graduate and, at 23 years old, was already a production supervisor.

One other suggestion I’d like to make is to let your students have fun with their projects as their skills improve. Once they have the design and programming work down pat for the established projects in your curriculum, encourage their imaginations to dictate what they can do with the power of Mastercam software.

I’ve had students design and machine parts for their cars and the cars of friends and relatives. Others have created pieces of jewelry for themselves and family. Let students realize for themselves that their new advanced manufacturing capabilities can provide them with a world of opportunity.

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