Precision-machining lab is result of great cooperation

The finishing touches are being put on a new precision-machining lab at the Sarasota County Technical Institute. But as important as that training program is to filling a serious shortage of high-skilled manufacturing employees locally, the way it came about and what it says about what happens when organizations work together in our community might be just as significant.

The difficulty that small and mid-size manufacturers have finding skilled machinists had become apparent anecdotally. But that is not enough for the school district to commit its limited resources, and so CareerEdge was approached for a study.

“Part of the impetus behind the CareerEdge study was to provide the school district with the data needed to support the manufacturing training,” said Todd Bowden, executive director of career technical and adult education at SCTI.

It did just that.

CareerEdge, a privately funded workforce-development group that focuses on harnessing a community’s full resources, hired Kempton Research and Planning to conduct a skills-gap study. The results were clear.

When asked about the greatest hiring challenges over next three to five years, 38 percent of manufacturing companies named skilled production workers as the most difficult to find — twice the number who answered engineers and four times the number who said sales and marketing people. And 75 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that schools are not preparing workers with skills needed in manufacturing.

“The study was definitive that the jobs were here in this community,” Bowden said. He moved swiftly to make a change-order in a building already under construction to accommodate the new machining program’s lab.

CareerEdge — the only organization of its kind in Florida as part of the national Funders Collaborative — helped put together the workgroup that began searching for the best solution. The group included: CareerEdge; Sarasota & Manatee Area Manufacturers Association; SCTI and the Sarasota County School Board; Suncoast Workforce Board; Sarasota County Commission; Gulf Coast Community Foundation; Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce; and Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.

“From the very beginning, there was a spirit of cooperation,” said Jeff Maultsby, director of business and economic development for Sarasota County. “It was really a model effort on how things can be done and should be done.”

The local manufacturers’ organization, SAMA, played a crucial role, representing the 600 manufacturers in the two-county area. Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of SAMA and of Venice-based Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp., dug in with SCTI to help move things along, including the development of the precision machining training program. She probably logged the most hours on a volunteer basis.

In an unusual move, local manufacturing leaders were instrumental in creating the materials needed by the program. It was an employer-led curriculum. That cut the cost of machinery in half, because the people in the field knew what was, and was not, needed.

The whole effort concluded with the Sarasota County Commission approving $343,500 to buy the machining equipment that will make the SCTI program work. Commissioner Christine Robinson made the initial motion in the process, and she was supported by Commissioner Joe Barbetta and the entire commission. That followed an even larger commitment of $655,000 by the School Board — a difficult decision in tight budget times.

“In less than a year from release of the study, the first student will enroll in the program,” Bowden said. “That is a breakneck pace in my line of work.”

The one-year program can handle 25 students at a time. Before it was even listed as available, it had filled up and had a waiting list.

There is one last key step to be taken: “The true confirmation will be when that first class graduates next year and they get jobs,” Bowden said.

The way so many different facets of the community, both in the public and the private sector, saw the need and pulled together to make this program a quick reality is an encouraging sign for the future.

Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at mhuey@ EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.

BUSINESS BUZZ: CareerEdge; dental hygienist anesthesia course; Red Hott Press; Manatee Glens

The CareerEdge Funders Collaborative of Manatee and Sarasota counties has received the 2013 Chairman’s Award for Exemplary Collaborative from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a national philanthropic initiative.

CareerEdge said it was chosen for its measurable results in job and skill training in growth industries, in some cases exceeding its goals by more than 200 percent.

National Fund for Workforce Solutions chairman John Padilla said CareerEdge “embodies the award’s spirit, bringing together employers, educators, government, service providers and philanthropic organizations to deliver education and training services that are advancing the careers of lower-income workers and building system capacity.”

Nathalie deWolf, CareerEdge executive director, stressed that the organization’s results are independently verified. A recent study by Urban Market Ventures showed that the $1.54 million in training grants made by CareerEdge over two years added some $14.5 million to the Gulf Coast economy.

Three U.S. organizations received the Chairman’s Award.

 Dental-hygienist anesthesia course

The deadline is Friday to sign up for a course to meet a new state requirement that allows registered dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

“Local Anesthesia: A Course for Dental Hygienists” will be offered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 6-9 by the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Dental Hygiene Program.

The fee of $1,495 includes breakfast and lunch each day. Registration can be done by phone, mail or in person.

For more information, call the college’s Corporate and Community Development Division at 752-5203, email Cindy Hunter, director of Continuing and Community Education, at or go to

 See your logo on promotions

Red Hott Press, of Sarasota, says it has a new Web solution at that allows businesses, schools and not-for-profit organizations to see their logos on more than 100,000 promotional products.

The new site features a progressive Web design and Payment Card Industry-compliant e-commerce for secure online orders. The site also has videos showing how promotional products work.

 Manatee Glens accreditation

The Florida Department of Children and Families gave “Excellent” performance ratings for standards and practices, and client records, in the residential detox program at Manatee Glens Hospital & Addiction Center, in Bradenton.

Now, in addition to the Manatee Glens Hospital and Outpatient Detox, clients can choose to go through detoxification as a resident in the private Addiction Center, Manatee Glens said.

$205,210 in training money for health care

CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, a Bradenton-based nonprofit that seeks to match workers with employers by boosting skill levels in Southwest Florida, said it has awarded $205,210 in grants to area health care providers and also revived a Manatee-Sarasota county consortium aimed at improving workforce development in the sector.

The five employers who received grants from CareerEdge to partially offset training costs were Blake Medical Center, Life Care Center of Sarasota, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Pines of Sarasota Foundation and Venice Regional Medical Center.

The money, coupled with $1.28 million in spending from participants, will help train 464 local health care workers. Four had previously gotten training money from CareerEdge, but Venice Regional is a new partner.

Meanwhile, CareerEdge has revived the Bi-County Healthcare Committee, formed by Suncoast Workforce but dissolved when funding lapsed in 2010.

The newly named “Sarasota Manatee Healthcare Collaborative” has more than 30 employers and educators participating.

“We provide an open forum to share and learn best practices, discuss challenges, and arrive at solutions together,” said Veronica Lequeux, Blake Medical Center’s vice president of human resources and chairwoman of the collaborative.

Chase to work with CareerEdge

Chase Bank has joined CareerEdge, a nonprofit whose mission includes raising money for workforce development and training in Bradenton and Sarasota counties as a new partner and member of its investors group.

CareerEdge said Chase’s support will help it build on its success in the health care sector and expand services into manufacturing in 2013.

CareerEdge’s other partners include Bank of America, Jane’s Trust and Sarasota County. Chase joins those contributors and seven other private and public organizations on CareerEdge’s steering board.

Jobs Group Brings in $165K

January 08, 2013

SARAOSTA-MANATEE — CareerEdge, a nonprofit work force development and employee training organization, raised $165,000 in the fourth quarter.

Chase Bank is the latest business to invest in the organization, according to a release. The bank, which gave $30,000 to CareerEdge, is currently undergoing a major expansion in branches on the Gulf Coast and statewide. Chase now joins Bank of America and several other organizations on CareerEdge’s steering board. Sarasota County also provides some funds to the organization.

Chase’s support will help CareerEdge build on its success in the health care sector and expand services into manufacturing in 2013, the release adds. “The investment made by Chase and our other partners will directly impact the economic prosperity of our region now and for years to come,” CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey says in the release. “The professional and financial stability that we help provide not only changes individual lives, but also has a rippling effect in our region. It’s our investors who make that possible.”

CareerEdge seeks to build career paths for lower income employees. It focuses on growth industries and it assists employers who want to fill positions with skilled workers. “CareerEdge’s work in helping more people gain important skills to keep our local economy strong is very important, and we are proud to support it,” Mont McNeal, Chase vice president of middle market banking for the west coast of Florida, says in the release.  “Working together with local economic development organizations and nonprofits like this can make our market more attractive to companies that are considering moving or expanding here.”

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Technical machinist training a new route to success

Four years out of Bayshore High School, 21-year-old Maria Garcia has a career that is very different from what most high-school graduates would even consider.

She chose not to go to college. Instead, she attended Manatee Technical Institute for courses in drafting and then in precision machining. She now works as a specialty machinist within a St. Petersburg company that makes parts out of both plastic and metal.

Often, Garcia finds herself making an aluminum or stainless steel part from start to finish.

She uses fancy computer programs to design the components.

Then, she enlists this data to program expensive computer-driven milling machines, which convert what were sketches into cold, hard steel or aluminum.

“Drafting was very cool,” Garcia said, “but it opened up my mind to see that there was more than that, a huge field to be experienced.”

There is a transition going on in American education, in which demand for manufacturing-related skills like those Garcia learned can be more more valuable than a traditional college education. Businesses, philanthropic organizations and technical schools have recognized this shift and sought to capitalize on it in Southwest Florida, a region where economic developers have been working for decades to diversify the employment base beyond its focus on construction, tourism and the service industry.

Manatee Tech, which is scheduled to open its new campus Tuesday on State Road 70, has been long established in Southwest Florida as the place to go to learn basic metal-working skills.

Meanwhile, Sarasota County Technical Institute, which gave up on machinist training during the real estate boom in 2006, is gearing up to offer the training anew in the fall as the school moves into new space on its existing campus at Proctor Road and Beneva Road.

To get his million-dollar program under way, SCTI director Todd Bowden relied on a comprehensive survey of the region’s manufacturers, conducted by a career-promoting non-profit called CareerEdge.

“They cannot fill these positions. We do not have the trained people for these higher-paying manufacturing jobs,” said Mireya Eavey, CareerEdge’s executive director. “We showed how, with a $4,000 investment in a machining certification program, when you graduate you will be hired at approximately $30,000 right out of school.”

On-the-job training, coupled with time-and-a-half pay for overtime, pushes those yearly pay levels higher at a surprising rate. “In two years, you will be between $40,000 and $50,000, and within five-six years you will be at $60,000 to $80,000 a year,” Eavey said.

The shortage in these positions is not just a regional phenomenon.

“We are sending our kids to college and creating a lot of workers who don’t have any unique or differentiating skills,” said Mitch Free, a former machinist who now runs a multimillion-dollar Atlanta company that matches machine shops with jobs, many of which get farmed out to Asia.

“Speaking with owners of machine shops, I am hearing from them that they have job openings they can’t fill, and they are willing to pay for it, good wages,” Free said.

For 20 years, learning machine tool skills has been a losing battle in the United States, because manufacturers were out-sourcing their work to Asia, where workers could be hired to create steel injection molds for far less.

But the tide is turning.

Computerized milling machines, known in the trade as CNC machines, are making the difference, because they put the premium on fewer workers with more smarts.

A typical custom machine shop will still use old-style mills and lathes to get a piece of steel blocked out into an exact rectangle or turned into a perfect cylindrical tube.

But then the shop will lock the work piece into a CNC machine, in which robotic cutters, bits or electrodes are used to sculpt the steel into the exact shape required.

A U.S. advantage

Bowden, the SCTI director, is reaching out to the area’s high school students to recruit his first class this month, starting with two dozen young adults.

They will each pay $4,000, with the rest of the million-dollar start-up costs being absorbed by the Sarasota County School Board coupled with some donations from the manufacturing community.

“That covers everything — tuition, fees, consumables, uniforms, everything they need for the 11-month curriculum,” Bowden said.

Students will begin 30-hour weeks on Aug. 21, 2013, with the course ending in late June 2014.

Once the program gets grounded, Bowden foresees using the same shop to run an evening program, which could help people who already are working but want to gain further skills.

The husband-and-wife team that owns Venice’s Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp. are eager to see the SCTI program get under way.

Brian Schmidt and wife Jennifer Behrens-Schmidt employ just a few highly skilled machinists to turn out very complicated steel molds for creating intricate plastic parts.

While Garcia cranks out physical components designed to be used as-is, the tool-and-die work like Atlantic does is even more intricate.

Workers at the Venice company create the exact steel cavity, complete with cooling channels, that will become the centerpiece for a machine that cranks out the plastic parts.

While the part might be tiny and weigh less than a gram, the mold into which the molten plastic is injected could weigh hundreds of pounds or more and include dozens of separate steel parts.

Holding up a finished part that will be used in abdominal surgery, Jennifer Behrens-Schmidt reveals her sales advantage over an overseas firm.

“Companies sourcing these molds, they aren’t just going to the lower bidder,” she said. “It’s a huge collaboration.”

Being able to work closely with clients on complex projects is a real advantage for the U.S. shops, says Peter Straw, executive director at the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturing Association, or SAMA.

“If I have a company in Sarasota, and I am using dies like Jennifer makes, I can get over there in an afternoon and get any issue resolved,” Straw said.

Case in point: One of Atlantic’s best clients is Tervis Tumbler, which makes its insulated drinkware in the same industrial park.

Greater earning power

While Garcia learned enough from MTI instructor Bob Williams to get her first real job, others, like 55-year old Lisa Payette, are using the same course of study to enhance their earning power.

After years of landing factory jobs and then losing them to out-sourcing decisions, Payette is now employed at the Sarasota division of Gainesville-based Exactech Inc., which makes knee and hip replacements.

Her employer started asking her to run CNC machines. Recognizing her promise as a worker, Exactech then offered her the chance to go to MTI for basic training.

Payette, who had been in manufacturing for 35 years, found herself engaged in very basic exercises, such as creating what Williams calls a 1-2-3 block out of stainless steel.

She started by cutting off a small chunk of steel from a three-foot long piece of stock.

Using manually operated precision grinders, she had to end up with a block that is a 1-by-2-by-3-inch rectangle, perfectly flat on each side, and made within one thousandth of an inch of the size specified by the teacher.

Her first time through the process took 22 hours in the shop. This is a job that a set of CNC machine tools might have been able to do in an hour or two.

But Payette says manually sculpting the steel, and also working with more basic computerized tools at MTI, have given her a better feeling for the limits of the raw material and of the computerized tools she uses at Exactech, where one machine might cost $200,000.

“You have to be so careful with those expensive machines. One wrong push of the button and you cause major damage,” she said.

She already has seen that happen, where a worker was changing over a CNC milling machine to make a different part, but failed to change the machine code that instructs the machine what to do.

The robotic arm, thinking it was moving through air, slammed straight into the chunk of metal it was supposed to sculpt.

“It was like a freight train,” Payette said. “There must have been like $30,000 in damage.”

Sarasota County pushes to train skilled manufacturing workers

SARASOTA COUNTY – Skilled jobs in manufacturing that could boost the middle class are making a comeback across the country, and this region is embarking on a plan to train people for them.

The goal is to close the so-called “skills gap,” in which manufacturers cannot find enough workers who have the know-how to fill high-tech open positions. Talk of the lack of workers who are trained to fill the jobs or even know they exist is occurring nationally.

In this region, educators and manufacturing industry representativesrecently finished a plan for how they will begin to train more workers for the jobs. On Wednesday, their plan gained enthusiastic support from Sarasota County commissioners.

Most of the area’s governments, schools and economic development organizations collaborated on the plan. The first steps will involve reaching out to high schools and high school students.

Yet the technology behind what are being dubbed “middle-skill jobs” like machining and precision welding, which can require a couple of years of post-high school classes and can quickly provide middle-class wages, is often still relatively new.

“You’re talking about a subject I know literally nothing about,” Commissioner Nora Patterson told presenters on Wednesday. Other commissioners echoed that they were more familiar with things like auto manufacturing.

Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of the Sarasota Manatee Area Manufacturers Association and owner of Atlantic Mold and Machining Corp., tried to break it down.

“We’ve all seen ‘How It’s Made,’ ” she said, referring to the Science Channel show about manufacturing. “It probably looks crazy complicated from the outside, but it’s really the same industry.”

The plan also calls for paying for on-the-job training, developing appropriate curricula in schools and trying to get more students interested in the industry.

Skilled manufacturing jobs typically have an entry-level wage of about $30,000 a year, but after a couple of years of experience the average wage is $40,000. With more experience, workers can make $50,000 to $80,000 a year, according to those involved with the plan.

The plan’s organizers surveyed 125 employers in the area this year and found 65 percent of them had at least one job opening, with many of those going unfilled for more than three months.

Employers found it hardest to fill jobs for skilled production, with engineering technologists following.

The plan will next be presented to the Sarasota County School Board.

County commissioners were excited by the idea of more manufacturing jobs, which could aid the area’s economic recovery.

Commissioner Christine Robinson, who called the work on the plan “a long-term investment in our community,” said she wondered if having more of those jobs may keep her three children around longer. Younger people in Sarasota County often flee.

“I might have a hope of keeping them here after they graduate from high school,” Robinson said.

Ready for work Careers program gives local job-seekers an edge

Ready for work – Careers program gives local job-seekers an edge

NORTH PORT — North Port resident Carlo Gambino has always dreamed of having a job in the video game industry. Now, thanks to the CareerEdge Bridges to Careers program that just wrapped up its first class in North Port, he is one step closer to that opportunity.
“This program has helped me with speaking and interview skills,” Gambino, 18, said after the class’ graduation ceremony Friday at the Goodwill in the Shoppes of North Port plaza, which played host to the program, in partnership with CareerEdge. “Before, I was really withdrawn, especially from people I didn’t know. Now I am little bit more open and I can speak a little better — especially in front of people.”
CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey said the program’s 14 students have spent the last six weeks working on computer skills, résumé writing, practicing the job interview process and networking. They worked with instructors from State College of Florida and took a tour of the Tervis Tumbler plant in Venice.
“We put this program together to help the unemployed people get those basic skills that employers are saying they need,” Eavey
said. “Digital literacy is very important, and they learned the computer skills that they need for the work. The specific purpose was to give them an edge from the employers’ perspective. They tell us what they’re looking for and what applicants aren’t coming in with, and we develop our program around that.” Gambino said he would be happy just to find an entry-level job right now, although he would like to work in information technology, with the hopes it would lead him into the video game industry.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s designing, programming or even marketing,” Gambino said. “Just as long as it’s with video games, I think I could be really happy with my life.” Participants in the program — which is free to those enrolled — ranged in age from 18 to their 50s. One of the graduates, 53-year-old Nokomis resident Debbie Sabatino, who used to live in North Port, thought she may have been too old to do something like the Bridges to Careers program. Fast-forward six weeks, and now she is on a path to landing a job as a certified nursing assistant. She said she was on her way to a job interview immediately after Friday’s ceremony.
“I was on the verge of giving up,” said Sabatino, who formerly worked as a security guard. “I had been reading up on books to help with my self-esteem, so therefore I thought this program would help me. We focused on us and what we needed to work on.
“Things aren’t bad to keep in the past because you can always look at them and ask where you can improve and go forward from. This class gave me more self-esteem — and I didn’t give up on me.”
Others, such as 47-yearold North Port resident Jeff Klinebriel, were able to use the program as a learning tool to get back into or even advance in their field. He spent several years as a parts adviser in auto dealerships and has driven a truck for a beer distributor.
He hoped to use skills learned in the program to return to the auto industry. “I got something out of every little segment of this program — the speakers, the mentors, the training and the computer stuff — which I was pretty ignorant at,” he said. “As a whole, it’s helped me out a lot in the three job interviews I’ve already had.”
As they received their completion certificates, the graduates gave short speeches about the class. One graduate, Pamela Miller,
delivered her speech via PowerPoint presentation — something she learned in the class. Graduate Cheryl Rodriguez of North Port said she was going to put a social media site together so classmates could stay in touch, share experiences in their job searches and keep learning.
Eavey said she will meet with Goodwill officials within the next week to discuss the continuation of the class, and hopes it’s something that Goodwill will be able to take on in a more permanent role in the future. She said a similar CareerEdge program in Bradenton has been highly successful, with several of the graduates finding employment after finishing the program.
Microsoft Unlimited Potential and Bank of America granted CareerEdge with the funding that made Bridges to Careers possible.

Matching Employer’s Needs with Workers Skills

LAKEWOOD RANCH – More than two-thirds of the region’s manufacturers say a major gap exists between the skills they need and those most area job applicants possess, according to a new study by CareerEdge Funders Collaborative.

CareerEdge, a nonprofit agency that is working to bridge that skills gap, surveyed more than 100 manufacturers and held focus groups to refine the results.

Working with manufacturing employers, school systems and governments in Sarasota and Manatee counties, CareerEdge wants schools to teach more usable skills. At the same time, the group hopes area manufacturers will commit to hiring graduates from improved educational programs.

The survey concluded that classes in which students learn to weld and run digitally controlled milling machines are critically needed, said Mireya Eavey, CareerEdge’s executive director.

Next week, Eavey hopes to take commitments from manufacturers to hire apprentices from Sarasota County Technical Institute classes to a Sarasota County Commission meeting.

“They want to see the number of individuals who will be hired,” Eavey said.

The skills gap is hardly a local issue, but it is more of a problem in this region because no single industry dominates the area. Instead, a large number of small, specialized operations discourages the development of centralized training programs, CareerEdge found.

Another problem, and one more addressable, is that high school graduates seem to lack even the most basic math skills, according to one panelist at a CareerEdge presentation of the survey results in Lakewood Ranch.

“We are constantly looking for people,” said Michael Havey, a manager at Teakdecking Systems, based in Manatee County.

His company, which employs 125 people at an average wage of $15 an hour, makes and installs custom-fitted teak decks for cruise ships and yachts.

Many of his workers earn considerable overtime, and traveling installers can make $50,000 to $75,000 annually, he said.

As part of its job interview, the company asks applicants to take what he describes as a fifth-grade math test involving simple geometry, addition, subtraction, multiplication and percentages.

Havey estimates that only one out of 25 job applicants gets all the problems correct.

Marine trim carpenters, welders, machinists, lab technicians, operators of lathes and other machines, assemblers and quality-control technicians were listed as the skilled positions employers most desire.

Representatives of Manatee Technical Institute and SCTI said they are eager to help.

“Our question is, will you hire the new folks?” Dr. Todd Bowden, director of SCTI, asked. “The last thing I want to do is put out 30 machinists a year — and find out the market is for 15.”

In a new building now being completed at SCTI, Bowden is proposing spending about $1 million over the next five years to establish a course in digital machining and milling. If funded, he could graduate a class of entry-level machinists by the fall of 2014, he said.

“And then, if you had a machine shop, you certainly would utilize it for a wide range of other training,” he added. “You could have a very robust continuing workforce training for those already in manufacturing.”

West Central Florida facing a Skills Gap crisis

A report in the Bradenton Herald echoes the article in this month’s Plant Engineering magazine on the severity of the Skills Gap issue in manufacturing. Manufacturers in west central Florida are finding the lack of a skilled work force is driving potential manufacturing growth away and harming their ability to improve production.

CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, an employment training agency in the region, told the Bradenton Herald that 56% of manufacturers find a Skills Gap of more than three years. The paper said this has forced manufacturers in the area to back off expansion plans.

“We’re talking about a lot of jobs,” CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey told the paper. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of marketing to do. This is a call to manufacturers that we understand their challenge. Now we need their commitment.”

The paper reports that despite an unemployment rate of 9.3% in the region and more than 28,000 unemployed workers, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the open positions in manufacturing.

“Part of it is the industry has done a bad job of marketing itself as a career path, with parents discouraging their children to seek opportunities,” Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of Atlantic Mold and Machining Corp., told the paper. “Most of the workers in the field are getting old, they’re close to retirement, and there’s no replacements lined up.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this and say we need more manufacturing jobs,” said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. “And the trend will only continue.”