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Students get a look at opportunities in manufacturing

  • ATC students tour NHBB<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Opportunity knocked for a few busloads of ConVal and Conant high school students on Thursday when they visited New Hampshire Ball Bearings for a tour of the plant and a chance to learn about careers in manufacturing.

The program was organized by teachers in the Region 14 Applied Technology Center, which is located at ConVal High School but serves students from both the ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge districts. Along with the tours of NHBB, the ATC staff set aside the day so all ConVal sophomores could tour the ATC classroom space and learn about the technology programs that are offered to all students.

“We do a lot of math here,” Donna Marcin, the human resources manager for NHBB, said as she welcomed the first group of students. “Pretty much everything requires math. We use CNC [computer numerical control] equipment and we’re working four or five places to the right of the decimal point.”

But Marcin urged students not to be put off by the sophisticated equipment they were about to see.

“We want you to know that manufacturing is a very viable career path,” she said. “We have jobs here that require four-year degrees, others need two years and others need high school diplomas. We have openings for assemblers and we can train you.”

Marcin said manufacturing salaries in the United States average more than $70,000 a year and the manufacturing segment of the economy is no longer declining.

“A lot of companies that sent business to India and China are bringing the work back,” she said.

NHBB, which has been owned by the Japanese company Minebea since 1985, makes precision bearings and bearing assemblies, with much of the work for the aerospace and defense markets.

Most of the available jobs are on the second or third shift. Marcin said the company has seen a spike in applications recently, but is still having difficulty getting applicants with the skills it needs, which is why she’s encouraging students to look at the offerings of the ATC program.

“We’re looking for people with a demonstrated work history,” she said. “We’re in a great position to have opportunities for growth.”

Manufacturing Manager Chris Waldron, who led a group of students on a tour of the plant, said manufacturing offers a solid career path.

“You can certainly start at the entry level,” he said. “If you can do multiplication, division, subtraction, you can do shop work. We can teach you trigonometry.”

Waldron said the company employs about 750 people in Peterborough right now and has plans to grow to about 800. Minimum starting pay is just under $11 an hour. Engineers at the company earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, and highly skilled technicians can eventually earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually. The company also pays incentives for those working on second or third shift and will pay tuition for workers seeking advanced training.

“I earned two degrees while working in manufacturing, paid for by my companies,” Waldron told the students.

While ConVal upperclass students from the ATC program were visiting NHBB, sophomores were touring the ATC classrooms at ConVal. Don Jalbert, the new director of the Region 14 ATC program, said February is Career and Technical Education month, and the goal of the day was to raise awareness among students.

“The kids tend to find our programs by accident,” Jalbert said. “We want to show them what is here and what we can offer.”

Jalbert said that President Obama suggested, back in 2009, that all students should leave high school with two things – a diploma and a certificate or credential related to a specific skill.

Those credentials are what the ATC program can provide, he said. Region 14 offers certificate programs in accounting, autobody/collision repair, automotive service technology, building trades, business, cabinetmaking and millwork, early childhood education, CISCO networking, computers and electronics, culinary arts, graphic communication, health occupations, law/public safety/security, photography/multimedia and pre-engineering.

“We think of ourselves as a school within a school,” Jalbert said.

The Region 14 ATC program is one of 27 being offered in New Hampshire. While most of the classes are taught at ConVal, some are held at Conant and other through Nashua Community College.

Students at ConVal have opportunities to take as many as 10 to 12 elective credits during their high school years, Jalbert said, and he wants some of those electives to be ATC courses.

“The question is, are we offering the electives that student’s want?” he said. “We’re trying to show the value we can add to a student’s education. One of ConVal’s goals is to be college or career ready and we’re working to redefine career-ready.”

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