Winona Senior High School industrial technology teacher Kyle Williams instructed student Tucker Hemmelman how to fire up the school’s new $40,000 CNC machine.
Fastenal donated the equipment as a part of a new partnership between the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce and Winona Area Public Schools to prepare students for careers in manufacturing.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Tucker Hemmelman watched every step over his teacher’s shoulder. In a room full of well-used manual lathes, one shiny new machine gleamed in the corner. Industrial technology teacher Kyle Williams handed his pliers to Hemmelman. Now hit the green button, Williams told Hemmelman. Inside the machine, an arsenal of tools whirred to life.
The shiny new machine is a $40,000 computer numerical control (CNC) machine donated to the Winona Senior High School’s (WSHS) metalworking shop by Fastenal and Stone Machinery and Walter Tools. It is part of REACH — a program launched by the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce, local manufacturers, Minnesota State College - Southeast (MSC-Southeast), and Winona Area Public Schools to give local students hands-on, employable skills in trades that local companies need. Hemmelman is working his way up to using the new CNC machine. This year, Hemmelman has taken classes in blueprint reading and drafting and computer-aided drafting (CAD). Hemmelman will practice with computer-simulated CNC machines, the school’s fleet of manual lathes, and its new 3-D printers before getting to use the solitary and very expensive CNC machine. When he finishes the REACH program, Hemmelman will have 16 credits from MSC-Southeast and a jumpstart on either pursuing more training or getting a job right out of high school.
“I like working with my hands,” Hemmelman said. It is rewarding, he added. “Especially when you see it go from a computer — then it comes out here, and you can hold it,” the high school junior explained. Hemmelman is good at it, too. “This my highest excelling course down here,” he said. Maybe he picked up some of that aptitude on his folks’ ridge-top farm. “Something breaks, you get down right away and start fixing it,” Hemmelman added.
“Myself, I’m doing better in these classes than any other classes,” REACH student Seth Niemi said. “I love building things, making things,” he added.
“I like working with metal lathes,” REACH student Andrea Grathen agreed. She learned from her father first, making pens with him in his workshop. In the short term, she is hoping these industrial technology classes will expand her pen-making skills. In the longer term, she said, “What kind of grabbed me the most is when we went to actual companies.” Grathen and her fellow REACH students toured local factories and met supervisors in what the REACH leaders call immersion trips. “What is exciting is, they’re a manager. If I apply for a job … and say I’m in the REACH program, maybe someone — a manager or a [human resources] person — will see that, and based on the attitude that we have at the immersion, I could possibly get hired at that company,” Grathen said.
“I hope it spurs a little bit of an interest in them, a little bit of a fire — ‘Hey, I could do this,’” Fastenal Manufacturing Trainer and Recruiter Willie Lubahn said. Local manufacturers say they face a shortage of skilled labor. Investing in training programs such as REACH is one way to build up their future workforce. “It’s not the manufacturing of the industrial revolution,” Lubahn said. In an interview, he added, “Over the next five years, we’re going to lose hundreds of years of experience just from retirements … We need to make up for it.”
Is CNC machining a good job? “Yeah, I think they get paid well,” WSHS industrial technology teacher Kevin Martin responded. “There’s a shortage in town.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks employment data for a number of CNC-related job categories. For Southeast Minnesota (excluding Rochester), the average wage for “computer-controlled machine tool operators” is $40,460 per year or $19.45 per hour. On average, local machinists earn wages of $43,290 per year or $20.82 per hour, while CNC programmers earn more: $50,140 per year or $24.11 per hour, according to the BLS.
REACH students were excited about the new CNC machine’s capabilities and the employable skill they could gain from learning how to use it. They also pointed out how much safer it is than a manual lathe. If a bit of loose clothing gets caught in these, Hemmelman gestured to the roomful of manual lathes, they could really hurt a person, but the new CNC machine will not even run until a door housing the moving parts is closed.
Learning how to act professionally, write cover letters, and talk to business people is another aspect of the REACH program’s curriculum. Grathen and her classmates just finished a course in workplace skills, were exposed to more businesses and business people during immersion trips, and had their own teamwork tested at the Saint Mary’s University high ropes course. Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Della Schmidt said that the change in the students’ confidence was remarkable. “When we first brought business people in, they were looking at the floor,” she stated. “Now, [the students] walk in the room, and they walk up to a business person.”
WSHS leaders plan to have REACH students make actual parts for local companies, sell them, and get paid while they are learning.
Twenty-six students are enrolled in the current REACH cohort. This fall, another 30 spots will open up in the manufacturing program, and WSHS leaders plan to add a health and human services REACH cohort, as well. To apply, WSHS students or their parents may visit HotJobsCoolCompanies.com.
In addition to Fastenal’s donation, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation plans to contribute $7,000 in equipment and curriculum, and the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce plans to purchase a $34,000, 10-passenger van specifically for the REACH program.