A booming manufacturing market and demand for skilled machinists is generating increased interest in the field.
Currently, the college has 72 students enrolled in its program and a list of applicants waiting to enter.
The students encompass a vast array of backgrounds and come from all around the region. They range from recent high school grads to career change seekers and also include a number of displaced Kimberly Clark workers. The program offers several tracts to meet student needs.One is a two-quarter Principles of Machining certificate designed to help displaced workers quickly qualify for entry level positions so they can work as they continue their education.
Then there’s a four-quarter Certificate of Proficiency tract which offers more hands-on experience and skill than the two-quarter option. And those who desire an Associate of Applied Science degree in Machine Technology can select the two-year tract.
Lake Washington’s program has been in existence for more than 40 years, making the institute a leader in machine technology training.
“It’s really a great program,” says Steven Weaver, a machine technology instructor at the college. “It gives students a solid foundation of knowledge. They learn the vocabulary and the terminology and get lots of experience with different machines. Classes are a mix of lecture and demonstrations plus work time and run Monday through Friday for five hours each day.”
Weaver adds that students have an excellent chance of being hired upon graduation, as currently there are not enough machinists to fill the jobs available.
“It’s a really good employment outlook for these students,” he comments. “We get calls on a regular basis from companies asking for our best students.”
Weaver notes that graduates from the program are able to grow much faster in the field than those without this type of training.
This year, the college has the highest percentage of women students enrolled in the history of the program.
Among them is Jennifer Lamphear, a mother of two who lives in Bothell.
The local woman is working toward her Associate of Applied Science degree and has about two quarters left before she reaches her goal.
Before she entered the program, Lamphear was an assistant manager for Domino’s Pizza.
“My boyfriend suggested I consider machining,” she says. “I had never thought about doing something like this, but I’ve always liked working with wood and using my hands.
“Once I started classes, I knew it was for me. It suits me and it’s a good fit for my abilities and interests.”
She adds, “I enjoy shaping metal into different forms and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to take a square block and create something useful.”
Lamphear notes that her teacher, Mike Clifton, is very helpful and provides excellent guidance and feedback to students. As for challenges, she admits that initially she was worried about the math component inherent in the profession as she had experienced trouble with this subject back in high school. But, she discovered that because the math has real and actual applications, it is much easier for her to understand.
“Trigonometry, for example, makes sense to me now that I am using it to do this type of work,” she says.
Lamphear was the first female in the program in five years when she initially entered the college. She acknowledges that it was a bit weird being the only woman and it took a while for some of the men to fully accept her.
“They picked on me a little in the beginning,” she comments. “But, once they saw that I could do the work, they stopped. Now, I feel comfortable and now there are more women in class so that’s great.”
The local woman is confident she will be prepared to enter the field when she graduates and she is looking forward to landing a job in a machine shop.
And with the new equipment that the college recently received, Lamphear and her fellow students in the program will have an even sharper edge when it comes to hands-on experience at graduation.
“We just got nine new machines totaling around $400,000,” explains Weaver. “It’s very exciting!”
Among the pieces of equipment are three Protrack lathe machines, three Protrack milling machines, two high-tech HAAS milling machines and a top-of-the-line HAAS lathe with live tooling capability.
“To get this type of technology – these types of machines – and have them be brand new is incredible,” adds Weaver. “It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to the program and it’s going to make a difference in helping to further increase our students’ skills in this industry.”