The traditional sector of manufacturing — making things with large-scale machinery or along an assembly line — has in some ways become inextricable from advanced manufacturing, which uses innovative technologies like computation, sensing, automation, and networking to make products.
That’s because these days, most manufacturers use some form of automation or computer engineering, especially in non-traditional manufacturing hubs like the lower Hudson Valley.
Westchester is particularly well-positioned to provide skilled talent for this industry, thanks to timely collaboration between local colleges, government, and employers, says Johnnieanne Hansen, vice president of operations and workforce development at the Council of Industry, a local manufacturers’ association.
The Westchester County Office of Economic Development’s Advanced Manufacturing Industry Desk promotes the county’s 28 higher-education institutions and many public schools, which are preparing workers for these highly skilled jobs — with highly lucrative salaries.
For employers in advanced manufacturing, “workforce is still an obstacle,” says Hansen. While businesses have been able to fill some positions thanks to new training programs that have sprung up in recent years, they are still “looking for individuals that fit well within the company.”
One training that has been a helpful pipeline for employers is the Certified Production Technician (CPT) 4.0 program, a certificate awarded to those students who exhibit “a mastery of foundational core competencies in advanced manufacturing,” says Westchester County’s Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons. This entry-level program teaches the basics of manufacturing processes, safety, awareness, “green” production techniques, and more, “to make it easier for the employer to hire them,” she says. The program, offered through Westchester Community College, is free to most students, and is looking for more candidates, she says.
The Council of Industry offers the New York State Manufacturers Alliance Intermediary Apprenticeship Program (NYSMIAP) in the Hudson Valley. Through the program, registered apprentices receive up to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training from journey-level workers in six trades: machinist (CNC), electromechanical technician, maintenance mechanic, quality assurance auditor, industrial manufacturing technician, and toolmaker.
These apprenticeships run from 16 months to four years, Hansen says. “Our data show that positions promoted as apprenticeships get significantly more applications. If you’re looking for a CNC [computer numerical control machine] operator, if you put the job out as an apprenticeship, you’ll get more candidates to choose from.” And a “Collaborative Recruiting Initiative” job board that is matching job seekers with employers (at www.hvmfgjobs.com) posts opportunities that are picked up by Indeed, Monster and other job boards, she says. “All these great jobs, right here in Westchester.”
One company working closely with the Council is Bantam Tools, an original equipment manufacturer, primarily of desktop CNC machines “weighing less than 100 pounds and small enough to fit on an engineer’s desk,” says General Manager Ron Lorentzen. “These are precise machines and require advanced manufacturing skill to produce. We also offer our precision engineering, machining, and assembly prowess for customers as well.”
Finding skilled workers remains a challenge, he says, which is why Bantam Tools partners with the Council of Industry, SUNY Westchester Community College, and other local and state institutions to offer training to upskill our workforce.
Advanced manufacturing is a good career option, Lorentzen stresses, offering “a clean, safe work environment. Individuals with the proper skills will be sought-after by companies and as manufacturing is a leading factor in creating value in an economy, these jobs will be well-paid and will provide job security to those employees.” Indeed, jobs as a CNC programmer, machinist and tool-and-die maker, the skills most in need at Bantam, can see pay above $75,000 per year, he says. But these opportunities “do not come easy. It requires a dedication to learning and continuously updating your skills and learning to maintain the value,” he adds. “Acquiring the skills themselves is a challenge.” But the effort required is “well worth it for the individuals and for society as a whole,” he says.
Magnetic Analysis Corporation, another big player in Westchester’s advanced manufacturing industry, designs and manufactures nondestructive testing equipment for metal manufacturing. “This equipment is based on three advanced technologies,” says President and CEO Dudley Boden. “The systems typically include electronics based on a PC, with custom-designed boards and software combined with complex mechanical systems.”
He also finds the job market tight. “In many positions, from machining to software development, we have to compete with large organizations like the MTA, Google, Amazon, and all of the financial institutions based in New York.”
His firm is currently looking hard for software engineers, PLC programmers, machinists, and mechanical and electrical technicians. “For manufacturing, you are looking at $25 to $35 an hour. For engineering, depending on experience and specific discipline, you are looking at $70,000 to low-six-figure annual salaries,” he says. “From the manufacturing side, this is a great career option because we do not have any positions that are near minimum wage. We also did not close down or have layoffs during the pandemic or other downturns in the economy, so it is extremely secure for people looking for a long-term career. From the engineering side, most of our products are small volume and to some extent customized for the specific customer, so no two days are the same. Our engineers are always challenged by new requirements in the market, new ways of using our equipment and the introduction of new technologies.”
Magnetic Analysis Corporation does not normally hire straight out of school without some experience in the technical area. “However, most of the people, we get started with a community college degree or an apprentice program. For engineers, it is one of the technical colleges that have a strong focus on hands-on skills. We will also send people to outside training when appropriate, again at community colleges typically,” he says.
And with subsidiaries “all over the world” and manufacturing and engineering bases in Sweden and Ohio, “we typically look for engineers and managers that are willing to travel, when necessary,” he says. “We typically find that both manufacturing and engineering people who spend their off time working on cars or other hands-on hobbies fit in best and have the most success here. From a job-hunting perspective, experience is the most important thing, whether it is through previous work or through internships or apprenticeships.”
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