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Fed official drops in on HACC machinist lab

Program trains sought-after workers

Jeromy Eickhoff, a graduate of HACC's computer numerical controls (CNC) program, explains how students are trained on equipment in the CNC machinist lab at HACC's Midtown Trade and Technology Center on Sept. 6, 2016. - (Photo / Peter Samulis/Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)

Mike Butala fields calls almost every day from a variety of manufacturers — from automotive and aerospace companies to medical equipment makers and small machine shops — who are looking to hire well-trained people.

Sometimes Butala has a name or two to offer, but not always.

He runs a lab at HACC’s Midtown campus that trains people to use computer numerical controls, or CNC, machines. The high-tech machines can produce custom tools or other parts out of nearly any material substance.

“The only thing that stops you is your brain,” Butala said of the programming possibilities.

Butala had a chance to show off his lab earlier this week to Patrick Harker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, who stopped by for a tour.

Harker was in Harrisburg to get a feel for the college’s investment in the region’s workforce and some of its innovative training programs that might benefit the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Since peaking at more than 19 million jobs in the late 1970s, the manufacturing industry has shed millions of jobs. There are currently about 12 million jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Butala’s 10-week course, which usually attracts about eight students per session, is one program that is helping to stabilize the workforce. But not every student completes the course or ends up in jobs running CNC machines.

Jeromy Eickhoff, a 37-year-old Perry County resident who was on the tour, is a recent success story for the HACC program. He completed the course in April and had not one but multiple job offers to be a CNC programmer.

He’s now working for AccuCutter, a Carlisle-area manufacturer.

Although he has long been into computers and programming, Eickhoff started in more physical jobs such as carpentry before deciding to switch careers. “I wanted to get paid for what I know, and it paid off,” he said.

He also wanted more flexibility in his work schedule for family time. And it’s not uncommon to find CNC jobs that start around $50,000 per year, he said.

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