As more and more Baby Boomers retire, jobs in the manufacturing field are being vacated, with few applicants waiting to fill the positions. Such is the case with machinists.

Of the 3.4 million total manufacturing job vacancies that will result from the retirement of 2.7 million Baby Boomers and 700,000 new openings due to business growth, as many as 2 million of these jobs could remain unfilled, reports show. A 2016 report placed machinists on its Top 10 list on The Conference Board’s labor shortages index.

“Machinists ensure that the machines are set up properly, working efficiently and producing a high-quality product,” Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “Machinists create a variety of products using CNC technology, from food packaging and medical instruments to airplane parts and shuttle components for NASA.”

“The College is thankful to the American Association of Community Colleges and All Within My Hands Foundation for making this possible for our students,” said President Falconetti. “The Metallica Scholars Initiative will enhance this valuable program and the local workforce.”

Polk State College has offered its CNC — computer numeric control — program for the last three years, and it just got a boost with a $100,000 workforce training grant from the band Metallica’s All Within My Hands non-profit organization. The organization is dedicated to creating sustainable communities by supporting workforce education, the fight against hunger and more. Its grant will provide scholarships to 64 students in the four-month CNC program and pay for students to take exams for six National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certifications that will qualify them for in-demand jobs that pay up to about $60,000 a year.

“The Metallica Scholars Initiative enhances these efforts and benefits our community by funding the quality training students need to become the next highly skilled machinists for our local industry,” said CNC program coordinator Jamie Rowan.

Labor Market

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), machinists made a median average salary of $46,000 per year in 2019.

According to Polk State, growth in machinist jobs is projected at nearly 6% over the next five years; nationally, the number is about 17%. With input from its advisory board of industry leaders, Polk State Corporate College recognized the need for machinists.

“The college’s short-term training program puts unemployed and underemployed individuals on a fast track to rewarding careers in the field and is filling a critical workforce need,” Rowan said.

As Polk State creates a pipeline of skilled machinists for about 100 local companies, it “prepares students with the information and skills necessary to successfully operate and program a CNC milling or turning center and several other types of manufacturing machinery,” Falconetti said. “They maintain quality and safety standards, keep detailed job records and maintain equipment and supplies according to protocols and policies.”

More than 180 machinists have been trained through the program so far. About 94% find jobs right after completing the program, and 98% pass their NIMS exams. “Polk County has become a hub for manufacturing, increasing the demand for highly skilled CNC machinists to (operate) these high-tech tools to manufacture parts and components needed for downstream assemble or further fabrication,” she said.

Supporting Local Industry

Community partner The Mosaic Co. appreciates Polk State College’s response to meeting the workforce needs of local employers, said Callie Neslund, director of government and public affairs for Mosaic Co.

“As we look ahead, the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation underscores the importance of ramping up training programs aimed at closing the gap on skills that we and others will need going forward,” Neslund said. “Polk State’s Advanced Technology Center is a direct outgrowth of that immediate human capital need. Through customized, hands-on programs — such as Mosaic’s apprenticeship module, precision maintenance mechanics program, and instrumentation and automation training — we are able to boost the skills of our current workforce and create a pipeline of new workers.”

Reports on the future of machinist jobs vary. The BLS says overall job employment for such employees is unlikely to change in the next eight years. But those in the industry say advanced manufacturing will help grow CNC machining to a $129 billion industry by 2026 — meaning more jobs for skilled machinists.

Economic Impact

“Manufacturing, and specifically advanced manufacturing, are important target industries for Polk County,” said Sean Malott, CEO & President of the Central Florida Development Council. “Polk State College continues to be an essential partner in training the needed workforce and suppling a well-equipped talent pipeline. We are so pleased they there selected for this notable grant.”

The careers of future machinists “will positively impact the economic development of Polk County, where hundreds of companies are actively seeking highly skilled machinists to fulfill their workforce needs,” Falconetti said.