June 2009- There was a time when being a machinist or a toolmaker was a coveted career. But in the last several decades, as manufacturing has seen a drop-off in interest from new generations of workers, finding a quality machinist can be a challenge.
To combat the skilled labor shortages that are afflicting manufacturing, the National Tooling and Machining Association, Fort Washington, Md., continues to hold its annual National Apprentice Competition to honor the best and brightest of upcoming generations of toolmakers and machinists. For 37 years, the competition has tested the mettle of rising stars in the industry, giving thousands of dollars in prizes to its winners and demonstrating why the trade is a valuable and rewarding career path.
"The competition promotes toolmakers and machinists in the manufacturing industry," says Mike Kramer, manager of sales and marketing, production manufacturing, for Major Tool & Machine Inc., Indianapolis. "Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was common practice and a highly thought-of position to be a machinist or a toolmaker. This contest is to promote that and to get more people to try it."
"It's just harder and harder to find good machinists," he adds.
No easy task
For entrants into the National Apprentice Competition, it's a challenging road to the winner's circle. Participants must be active employees of an NTMA member company or students enrolled in an NIMS-accredited institution and be either serving a formal apprenticeship during the year of the competition or have fewer than five years of machining-related experience and a minimum of nine machining Level I-II credentials.
Before a participant can make it to the national competition, he or she first must be a regional champion of a competition held at an NTMA chapter or, if such a competition isn't available in a contestant's region, pass a rigorous test under the supervision of a third-party judge.
At the national stage, finalists flex their machining and toolmaking knowledge through computational skills demonstrations, interpreting drawings and prints, technical data evaluation and applying physical science principles, all while adhering to safety and hygiene regulations. Contestants set up and operate machine tools, produce parts to specification and, finally, take a written exam.
From April 15-18, this year's national competition was held in Indianapolis and featured eight regional champions from the NTMA's Cleveland, Indiana, Kentuckiana, Los Angeles, Michiana, Pittsburgh, Rochester and Wisconsin chapters. Third place went to Andrew W. Warren of Six Sigma Inc., Louisville, Ky.; finishing second place was Josh Geschke of MAG Giddings & Lewis, Fond du Lac, Wis.; and the overall winner was Mark Evangelist of Stellar Precision Components, Jeannette, Pa.
For winning, Evangelist received more than $1,300 in machinist tooling from INTMA, a NIMS credentialing scholarship, a set of Gerstner toolboxes and a 10-day, expenses-paid trip to Switzerland to observe and learn about Swiss manufacturing techniques. His sponsor company also received a 30 percent discount on a wire EDM machine.
But valuable prizes aside, the ultimate victory of the competition is the support it gives up-and-coming machinists and toolmakers.
"[A machining career] gives you the skills of the industry," Kramer says. "It teaches you how to read blueprints, how to machine parts and what it takes to machine a part. It teaches you about all different kinds of materials. It's an excellent training ground. There's a lot of room for people and room for advancement." MM