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Career Choices: Go to College or Pursue a Career as a CNC Machinist

 

So you just graduated high school and you haven’t decided what you want to do with your life. You are not alone these days because the choices are not as easy as they once were. With college costs increasing every year and student loans possibly going up to 6.8% (if congress doesn’t reach agreement by July 1st) one has to stop and think if going to college is the right thing to do. Layered on top of this is the fact that less then 64% of those who start college actually finish and with the sluggish economy just 67% of the graduates last year actually obtained a job within 6 months of graduation and many didn’t get a job in their field of study. This has resulted in over 50% of college students moving back home either when they drop out or, in many cases, graduate only to find they still have to pay their student loans because they kick in whether you find that dream job or not. When you calculate the financial risks and liabilities it is a sobering reality that the American dream of going to college to get a better education then our parents may not be the right choice.
 
An alternative you may not have considered is to delay going to college and start a career in Computer Numerical Control or CNC machining. Back in the ‘80’s when I graduated from high school manufacturing and machining had a bad connotation in that shops where dirty, loud, and hot. The hours were long and the jobs were monotonous and repetitious. On top of that, most of the good paying manufacturing jobs were being sent overseas. As a result, parents like my dad (who was a journeyman tool and die machinist) encouraged their kids to avoid manufacturing jobs.
 
To a large extend my dad was right. As General Electric closed the plant he worked at, he received an early retirement buy out and his job and many others were moved to Korea. This was true then but it is no longer true in Jackson, Michigan today. Manufacturing is back in Jackson, Michigan and the dirty, loud, boring and repetitious manufacturing jobs of yore no longer exist.
 
The dirty and noisy screw machines, grinding machines and manual lathes and mills of the 60’s and 70’s have been put to pasture in most shops and replaced by CNC lathes and mills. Just as the technology in automobiles during this timeframe has gone from manual carburetors to advanced computer controlled fuel injection, lathes and mills have computers now that control all aspects of how parts are machined. Shops are now air conditioned because the CNC machines need to be operated in a controlled temperature and humidity environment as well as making it a better work environment for the machinists. Shops are also well light with epoxy coated floors that look clean enough to eat off of but I don’t recommend doing that.
 
How Does One Become a CNC Machinist & Why Its a Better Option Than College in Many Cases
 
Many shops these days can’t find skilled operators or machinists so they are hiring “green” or unskilled workers with the right attitude and paying for them to be trained either on site during On the Job Training or “OJT” or a combination of OJT and formal apprenticeship programs like what is offered through the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association (”JAMA”) Academy for Manufacturing Careers.
 
Companies like Classic Turning, Inc. (where I hold the position of CEO) sponsor newly hired green unskilled workers, pay them from day one a good hourly wage (operator trainees typically between $10 and $13 per hour) and reimburse them to attend the apprenticeship classes at nights. In as little time as 224 hours you can complete the required classes and obtain your CNC short term certification. Any readers out there who are interested in apprenticeship program should contact Annette Norris from the Enterprise Group of Jackson, Inc. (Call 517-782-8269 or email anorris@enterprisegroup.org.)
 
Once you have received your full CNC certification which typically takes 3-4 years to complete you will advance from the position of an operator trainee to CNC Operator. With further training, work experience and completion of on site testing you can eventually obtain the position of a Machinist.
 
Summary of Career Options: College vs. CNC Training
 
Option 1: Go to College
 
Let’s assume you choose to go to a college at Central Michigan University, are successful, graduate and land a job in your field. Let's further assume your chosen filed is Communications or Information Technology. If you get this far, you have beaten the odds but even so it will have cost you $84,000. This figure is based on today’s tuition costs of $21,000 per year and the current student loan interest rate of 3.4%. Assuming a starting salary of $40,022 and a net take home after taxes of $30,124 it will cost you $824 per month for the next 10 years to repay your student loans.
 
Option 2: Begin a Career as a CNC Machinist
 
If you forego the opportunity to attend a four year university and instead choose to pursue a career path as a CNC operator trainee right out of hight school, during the four years you would have been enrolled in college you will have earned over $90,000. In addition to that you will have a jump start on funding a 401K account which most machine shops like Classic Turning offer. During this four year period you will also have the benefit of medical, dental, optical and other health care benefits. On top of all this you will not incur any student loan debt. Furthermore, if you consistently took just one class per week throughout the year you would have your CNC certificate at the end of the four year period and would be making between $12 and $17 per hour (plus time and a half when you work overtime.)
 
If we assume and average hourly wage of $14.5 per hour you would earn over $34,000 per year and incur no debt. If you decide later (say five years down the road) that you would like to go to college you would be able to get your college degree without taking out any student loans if you save wisely. As an Jackson, Michigan employer who reviews hundreds of resumes in a given year, I always look for bright young workers who found ways to earn their education by themselves.
 
In future blog posts I will provide more information about what an operator trainee, operator and machinist does; what the working conditions are in like in a manufacturing company like Classic Turning; and many more things about manufacturing in general and manufacturing career opportunities in Jackson.
 
If you can’t wait until then feel free to contact me. My contact information is listed on my blog profile page.

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