The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) recently awarded MCC’s Arizona Advanced Manufacturing Institute (AzAMI) with accreditation, the highest honor for metalworking training in the United States. AzAMI began 3 years ago when the school was given a $2.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant allowed the program to do a complete makeover of the facility, and to invest in equipment like 3D printers, attract students and teachers, develop industry partnerships, and ultimately shape the program. AzAMI director Leah Palmer said that the goal of the institute is simple: to help students navigate this competitive industry, every step of the way.
The AzAMI’s aim is to bring greater awareness to MCC’s manufacturing programs, as well as to help industry partners get the skilled workers needed for their workforce, and assist students to navigate career pathways and programs.
Currently, the program has more than 400 students, and, according to Palmer, all of them have one thing in common: they love to use their hands. “They like to make things, create and design processes — that is their passion that becomes part of their career pathway,” she said. According to Palmer, 60 percent of the students enrolled are employed, or are underemployed and looking to learn more skills and find a job with better pay. The majority of the them are looking for a certification, which is considered by the industry as a prerequisite for employment. NIMS standards, according to their website, are specifically based on the organization’s skill standards for Machining Levels I and II, and the ability to perform at a high level on both manual and computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
The organization requires an on-site evaluation before awarding any accreditation, and MCC’s occurred in fall 2015. NIMS lead evaluator Mark Lashinske of Modern Industries Inc. conducted and oversaw the audit with the help of education representative Chris Williams of Tucson Magnet High School and industry representative Mark Reish, also of Modern Industries. According to Palmer, the process was rigorous. “The facility has to meet safety and production standards, the curriculum has to be relevant with input from industry, (and) the equipment has to meet different levels of training capacity for the machinist to attain proficiencies,” she said. At the end of the audit, the team awarded MCC with above average ratings in 8 different categories.
MCC became the third program in the state of Arizona to receive NIMS accreditation, and while two other programs in the state have the same credentials, MCC also qualified for 18 different certifications, the most in the state. AzAMI’s curriculum is structured so that the learning process begins with learning fundamental manufacturing skills each student must have along with career and workforce readiness. Students then have the opportunity to earn certificates of completion in specific areas of manufacturing. “The employers who value NIMS certifications will now come to MCC for a hiring pool of qualified workers which will encourage students to train here because it will help you get a job,” Palmer said. “Ultimately, education should lead to employment and so our goal is to provide as many tools to make our students value added to the employer.”
On top of the certifications, MCC offers additional resources that other schools with a manufacturing program don’t have, including industry certification boot camps and job readiness workshops. A career navigator will also work with participants on resume assistance, applying for scholarships, finding internships, and, ultimately, that first job. Palmer says this accreditation means everything for the program, and validates all the hard work that has gone into the program. “It speaks to the commitment of faculty, staff and industry partners who value the willingness to go above and beyond to serve our students,” she said.