The Hawkins County School District has started a machine tool career and technical education course at Cherokee High School.
The new CTE program will teach students skills they can use in the workforce.
“Machine tool is where you take raw material and make it into a finished product through the process of whether it be lathes, mills or grinders,” said machine tool instructor Mike Jones. “Sometimes we have what’s called a CAD machine where they can actually take a block of steel and put it inside water, and it actually burns dies in forges.”
Hawkins County Schools CTE Director Brandon Williams said they decided to open the program after looking at labor market data.
“So anytime we want to open a new program, we look at labor market data to see what sort of occupations the local labor market is requiring,” Williams said. “That’s really what drives program decisions when it comes to new programs or shifting from one program to another.”
Williams said discussions about opening a machine tool program started about a year and a half ago.
“So, discussion for this particular program started maybe a year and a half ago,” Williams said. “It’s a year and a half later, and we’re getting started, and we’re excited about that. The whole year and a half, everybody was just anxious. Mr. Jones was anxious; he contacted me a couple times wanting to know when we were getting ready to hire an instructor. It takes time, and it takes a lot of money.”
The program was funded by two grants. One is the Supporting Post-secondary Access in Rural Counties (SPARC) grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Committee for $100,000.
The grant will be used to make upgrades to the shop like electrical and plumbing. It also will be used to buy shop furniture such as work benches and shelves — as well as tools, like the bits and cutters used by the machines.
The school system also received a lot of assistance with starting the program from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Morristown, which was awarded a Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant in the amount of $1 million.
TCAT Morristown used $250,000 of its GIVE grant to purchase most of the machines that the school needed to start the machine tool program. The purchases included five manual lathes, five manual mills, one computer numerical control (CNC) mill, one CNC lathe and standard shop equipment such as band saws.
Williams said without TCAT’s support, they wouldn’t have been able to start the program.
“We are very grateful to Chris Edmonds and TCAT Morristown and the partnership we have with them because this truly would not have been possible without their assistance,” Williams said. “A quarter million dollars in equipment is a lot of money, and particularly to Hawkins county schools when our budgets are as tight as they typically are. So, as much as we may have wanted to do this without the GIVE grant and without Chris’s assistance, this startup wouldn’t have been possible.”
Jones said the skills he teaches are versatile in the job market.
“You can become a machine operator in lots of factories around here,” Jones said. “Which can translate into machinists, who … make things that we use. For example, in the facility I come from, they have to make the dies where they would actually mold the parts into or forged parts into, and then you could take machine shop, and that can translate into engineering machine shop. You can also take that into industrial maintenance. So machine shop is kind of like a starting point for several different jobs.”
Jones starts off by teaching his students safety. Then he moves on to measurement standards.
“First, we teach safety because without safety, then everything else is obsolete,” Jones said. “When you come into the factories, the first thing they do is teach safety. Then, we would move on to teach them how to use the different measurement instruments like micrometers and calipers.”
Jones said he starts students on manual machines, but the goal is to train them on CNC machines “because that is where the market is right now.”
Jones said he wants to create skilled workers because they are more valued in the job market.
“What I show the students, you go through the machine tool program, you’ll leave a skilled worker,” Jones said. “There is a difference between a skilled worker and a non-skilled worker. Skilled workers get a better job, and the pay is almost double. It’s the difference between driving a $1,000 vehicle or going to get a brand-new vehicle. It’s a better quality of life. You can enjoy life better, and you don’t have to work as many hours to make ends meet. So, simply by going through this program, it makes the quality of life for the students 10 times better.”
Jones said factories prefer skilled workers because they don’t have to invest as much time and money into them.
The machine tool curriculum includes four courses, which CHS will add as time goes along. In future courses, students will have more opportunities to grow their skills.
One requirement of the GIVE grant is to have a workforce partner, which is Dodge in Rogersville. The school hopes to bring in more partners in the future.
Eventually, Dodge will take in student interns and give them on-the-job experience, which is a competitive advantage.
“That’s the whole crux of CTE at the bottom of everything is giving our students a competitive advantage,” Williams said. “When they walk across the stage and graduate and either enter the workforce and go to additional training and education, it’s a competitive advantage, because number one, they’ve already got the knowledge and skills. They have practiced it in the shop here, but it’s a serious competitive advantage when they’ve had on-the-job experience.”
Another requirement of the GIVE grant is that the program has to align with a post-secondary opportunity. The program aligns with the machine tool technology program at TCAT Morristown.
Currently, the intro to manufacturing class at CHS is full, and approximately 80 students are enrolled in the program. CHS Assistant Principal Seth Rhoton and Jones said they have received positive feedback from the students.
“The feedback has been very positive,” Rhoton said. “They’re anxious to get into the shop, and they’re very anxious to learn and see what all they can accomplish.”
Jones said one of his goals is to have employers call him about students.
“My goal as an instructor here is when they finish that four years that the factories would call me,” Jones said. “That’s my goal as an instructor is for me not to be calling the factory, but the factories be calling me and say, ‘We want some of these students from Cherokee High School. When you send them, they’re ready to go. We don’t have to invest a lot of time and money into them, and they will have jobs waiting on them.’ Hopefully, when that reputation gets out, we can have some of the other students say, ‘I’m gonna go through this program because I can pretty much guarantee me a job.’ ”
While some of the equipment will be coming in soon, the CNC machines may not arrive until December. However, Williams said this isn’t an issue because students don’t go into the shop right away.