An overview of the machine shop at the Valiant Training and Development Centre.Click image to enlargeArticle & photos by Jim Barnes

Introducing tomorrow’s workers to high end machining

From the outside, it looks a lot like many other Windsor-area machine shops, but what is going on inside the Valiant Training and Development Centre is revolutionary.

For decades, industry leaders have been complaining about a shortage of skilled trades in manufacturing and a lack of training activity. One of them decided to take action. Mike Solcz Sr., founder of Valiant Corp., established the Earn While You Learn training program at Valiant in 2008. Newcomers to the industry were paid to participate in a 46-week training program in machining skills.

Some of the students weren’t even sure what CNC was when they joined the program. They learned safety procedures, machine operation, how to read a blueprint, how to gauge a part and the importance of showing up for work on time.

Was the program a success? According to Mike Ouellette, skilled trades training coordinator, Valiant Training and Development Centre, Valiant is now full of new machining talent. About 140 of the firm’s staff came in through the program.

Mike Ouellette with the newest addition to the Centre's shop, a Matsuura five axis machining centre supplied by Elliott-Matsuura Canada.Click image to enlargeThe company realized after its success that it wouldn’t need to train such large numbers of people for its plant, so Solz started to think about other uses for the facility.

“Solcz was a founding member of the Canadian Tooling & Machining Association,” says Robert Cattle, CTMA’s executive director, “and discussions began on turning the facility into an industry-driven training centre.”

CTMA members had toured the facility during one of their meetings in Windsor. “80 or 90 members came through here,” says Ouellette. “They were wowed.” After that, talks started on how the centre could be run to benefit the entire industry.

The association’s members were asked how many of them would participate if the CTMA could obtain government funding to help offset their shop floor training costs. The response was very strong, says Cattle. “We then began discussions with Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Employment Infrastructure.”

The result was CTMA’s Introductory Trades Training Program (ITTP). The pilot program paid students $12 per hour. The first four weeks were spent at the centre, followed by another 28 weeks of training on the shop floor of a host employer. Employers received $8,000 in training assistance for each participant they trained. Initially, 16 companies signed up, some of them taking multiple participants.

The results of the pilot program were impressive; 21 out of the 25 were hired in full time positions with their host employers.

This led to three more intakes, the last starting in October 2015 and will finish in the spring of 2016. Students now have six weeks of training at the centre followed by 26 weeks on the employer’s shop floor. The program has generated more than 100 new skilled trades jobs in the Windsor region and CTMA is looking at ways to expand and improve the program.

More than 32 companies are now involved, but not all of them are CTMA members.

Each company pays a registration fee to participate in the program: $1,500 for CTMA members and $2,500 for non-member companies. “This has not been a deterrent for companies,” says Cattle. He adds that those fees go back into the program as part of the employer contribution to help cover some of the screening, assessment and training costs.

Carley Morrow is one of 32 women who have joined the skills training programs at Valiant.Click image to enlargeThe target student comes from a pool of unemployed or underemployed Canadian youth, 18 to 29 years old, says Ouellette. He is looking for motivated students with a good attitude and aptitude for the work.

Applications are pre-screened by the Employment Assessment Centre in Windsor. They then go to the training centre, where detailed assessments are conducted by the training centre and CTMA.

Prospects are then interviewed by the shops participating in the program. Once the employer selects a student, that student becomes an employee of the company and starts training at the centre to become “job ready,” says Ouellette. They spend three weeks focusing on classroom training and then train in the centre’s shop floor. “The work in the training centre’s shop is typical. They work 40-hour weeks on some fairly sophisticated parts for paying customers. It’s a real-world experience. We get rush jobs that have to be finished by the end of the day.”

Students then spend 26 weeks of training at the employer’s shop.

Over the past six years, Ouellette has brought 32 women into the centre, from both the ITTP and the Earn While You Learn programs. He describes them as “amazing” in their work ethics and aptitudes. “They are surprised at how (physically) easy the work is,” he adds.

Besides provincial employment centres, Ouellette says that word of mouth and social media have been powerful recruitment tools: graduates and current students are helping recruit their friends.

Student Jordan Goodwin spent time in a community college program and then entered Valiant’s “Earn While You Learn” program. “The two environments are quite different,” he says. “You’re being paid to be here. It is a job. In college, you can get away with slacking off a little bit and there’s nobody to really push you to keep going. This is real-world stuff. You work on actual parts. It’s more hands-on, here.”

The idea is an easy sell to industry. Its potential is enormous. “Right now, we’re training 60 people a year. We need to train 600 a year,” says Ouellette. “I would like to see this all over Canada.”

That will depend on funding. The CTMA has several submissions before both the Provincial and Federal governments and are looking for more permanent funding to maintain and expand the training programs.

Ouellette was in the industry for 38 years before he joined Valiant as training coordinator six years ago. He says some companies have had bad experiences hiring young people so they have been reluctant to take in more. However, he says part of the success of the program is because of his industry contacts and reputation with facilitating student contact with the shops. “I know a lot of people, and that is really helping these young people,” he says.

The centre has a strong record of success. It has placed about 140 at Valiant through the “Earn While You Learn” program and another 116 through the CTMA’s ITT program.

Of the 16 graduates in the centre’s first “Earn While You Learn” intake, 14 are working full time for Valiant. Three are leaders on the floor, and two of them have their papers and are journey people, and another one is close to earning the papers, says Ouellette.

The centre is unique, and that is not a good thing. Canada is not taking advantage of its human capital because youth skills are a poor match for market needs.

“This facility is the only one. This is it,” says Ouellette. SMT

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