Platt Tech manufacturing grads in hot demand

The shop at Platt Tech probably looked familiar to the business representatives who gathered recently for a semi-annual meeting with teachers there. They were surrounded by the same equipment found in their operations.

And because students are at home using those machines, they are getting hired by those area manufacturers to fill a field they say continues to grow as an older generation of workers retires.

Brian Quinn of Bridgeport Fittings said the Stratford firm has hired two recent products of Platt Tech: One two years ago, one a member of the class of 2013. Both got their start on the shop floor at Bridgeport Fittings in work study, and established themselves as people the company wanted to hire, Quinn said.

Bridgeport Fittings is not alone.

“Companies are calling like it’s a tidal wave,” said David Tuttle, head of the Manufacturing Technology Department at the state-run technical high school in Milford.

The manufacturing program at Platt Tech is 86% full, with 86 students.

Of the 23 members of the class of 2013, 14 will be working in manufacturing while nine will attend college. Of those attending college, seven will study engineering, one will study plastics engineering.

During 2013, students in Platt Tech’s Manufacturing Technology Department were hired by Stevens Manufacturing, Precision Metal Products, Stratton Industries, Schick, The Lee Company, Moore Tool, Bridgeport Fittings, Precision Sensors, Alloy Engineering, Excello Tool, RBC Bearing, Cadcom and Westconn Tool.

In the three days prior to the June meeting, five juniors were offered jobs, three with one company.

Most of the jobs are in computer numerical control, abbreviated CNC. Others are in tool room and inspection.

Inspection will be the focus of a new station being built in the department this summer. Flaws can be found and shown to students, some of whom may end up working in quality control in a field in which thousandths of an inch can mean the difference in the functionality of a product.

In the Skills USA Competition, in which tech school students compete in their fields of study, Platt Tech took first, second and third in both CNC Turning and CNC Milling. Kevin Pineda in turning and Jesse Pena in Milling will both travel to Kansas City, Mo., for the national finals.

There are multiple paths a student may take to employment. Some can latch on as an apprentice through a state program, said Vinnie Valente, program manager of the Office of Apprenticeship Training for the Connecticut Department of Labor.

“All of a sudden apprentice tool making is coming back,” Tuttle said. “It’s a tidal wave. People are retiring.”

Apprenticeship is making an even bigger impact in the construction industry, said Valente, a plumber.

He said that certification has been worth more than any of the multiple college degrees he holds.

Valente himself started as an apprentice. The program offered by the state Department of Labor is voluntary for both parties, which combines on-the-job training with related instruction, leading to full-time employment, and marketable skills, licensing in trades where such is required in Connecticut, and nationally recognized credentials.

Any employer may participate in the program, provided it offers full-time employment, schedules work training and related classroom education, schedules wage increases leading to journeyman, arranges necessary licensing, provides field training, and maintains a Connecticut business presence.

Apprentices must be at least 16 years old. The minimum length of the program is one year, with 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of related instruction.

Commonly, according to data provided by Valente, an apprenticeship lasts three to five years in a construction or manufacturing trade.

Valente had a crowd nearing 50 listening to his pitch.

“How do you get so many people to show up? It’s their program. Their taxes pay for it,” Tuttle said to a room overflowing with manufacturers, state officials, and current and former students.

First-year Platt Tech Principal Sheila Williams said she was “amazed” by the craftsmanship shown by students in the shop, even the underclassmen just finishing their exploratory phase and choosing a course of study.

A program this summer involving the New Haven Manufacturers Association, Southern Connecticut State University and Platt Tech will introduce math and science teachers to the skills taught in technical schools, and needed in manufacturing.

While they teach the subject matter to middle and high school students, lessons and knowledge are “out of context,” Bob Klancko of the New Haven Manufacturing Association said. “The only way to learn it is to get dirt under your fingernails and make something.”

The new educational focus on STEM, Klancko said, includes the science and mathematics, but omits the technology and engineering.

“Even during downsizing,” Tuttle said, “it never slowed down.”