Let's Help Schools Teach Machinists

Aug. 8, 2013
Haas Automation Technical Education Center Program Provides Machines at Discounted Prices to Schools
About the Author

Peter Zierhut is vice president of European operations and special projects, including educational initiatives, at Haas Automation.

Haas Automation grew rapidly from a small company to a large one, so we didn't always realize the importance of ancillary activities like supporting education. That's because education doesn't directly benefit getting machines out the door.

However, education does have very strong indirect benefit because our industry needs to be supplied with well-educated machinists and engineers for us to have a future. And, of course, we'd also like them to be familiar with Haas when they graduate.

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We knew we couldn't do it all by ourselves, but we wanted to do our part to build strong machinists and machining programs is as many schools as possible, starting in the U.S. and then spreading to schools worldwide. So, about 12 years ago, we started the Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC) program to provide Haas machines at discounted prices to schools. A key part of HTEC is its partner program, which provides tooling, fixturing and accessories at very deep discounts to schools, as well as training and CAD/CAM software, and even credentialing materials from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

The HTEC program includes a host of other benefits, including regional conferences across the U.S. and a HTEC national conference each year, where schools can gather to attend seminars, network, learn about common issues, and exchange ideas. Probably the biggest benefit of HTEC is the conferences because educators learn from the others about successful strategies for recruiting new students, organizing fundraising or projects, and connecting graduates with jobs and industries. In fact, we just had 100 participants at our national conference on July 15 in Edmonton, Alberta.

So far, HTEC has 3,000 machines at 1,200 schools in North America. These are mostly community colleges teaching basic machining skills, but a lot of universities and high schools participate, too. They don't need big machines to teach, and so they usually get our Toolroom mills and lathes, but they're also buying some larger, five-axis machines. We also have 600 schools in Europe participating in HTEC, but it's not formalized, and we don't have regional conferences there yet.

Students at the schools use Haas machines to learn how to program them; take drawings and turn them into finished parts; learn metrology and cutting speeds and depths; fixturing requirements; efficient cutting paths; and how to use CAM software to define those paths and calculate the best cutting procedures. It's also especially useful for them to learn in accordance with NIMS credentialing, so employers will know they've received consistent, standardized training.

We believe these efforts are so important because the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimates there's a shortage of 500,000 machinists in the U.S. right now, and yet schools are still struggling to recruit students. While some schools do a good job recruiting students, many can't seem to overcome the disconnect that so many young people apparently have about factories being dark and dirty places with poor working conditions. 

Meanwhile, Germany and Europe have a higher level of respect for the trades, with more efforts by schools, governments and industry to work together, and a lot more technical training and apprenticeships. I've been working with a consortium in South Africa on industry and government cooperating to strengthen manufacturing. They're trying to build a structure like Europe, and we're supporting them. The U.S. has been slower to react, but there's a lot more interest lately.

Overall, we've been pleasantly surprised with how fast HTEC has grown and how many schools are eager to participate. It's great that we have 1,200 schools in HTEC, but it's not enough to meet the needs of the industries we serve. We're only meeting a fraction of the need, and there's a lot more schools that could use the same kind of help. This is a huge opportunity. There are thousands more schools out there that need assistance, and not just with machining, but with other kinds of technical training, and making sure more students are better prepared earlier to receive that training.

Industry has not always responded seriously to helping ensure this better future. So, that's what we're trying to do, but we can't do it alone. We want good, strong manufacturing in the U.S., but we need everyone to get involved today, and support education and schools at all levels, so they'll be able to provide all the skilled workers we're going to need tomorrow.