Advanced Precision Machining

The Manufacturing Labor Market, Vocational Education, and the Combined Impact on CNC Machining Operations

[May 13, 2019] After a Winter to remember, the arrival of Spring, and with warmer temperatures finally headed our way, high school and college graduates will soon be either entering the workforce or choosing to further their education. The seasons are changing, and the precision manufacturing industry remains in the midst of its own evolution. What has been coined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) is upon us and it’s rapidly transforming machine shop work by way of better milling and machining equipment, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, process automation, analytics, preventative maintenance, and the Internet of Things (IoT); just to name a few! For the ownership at Advanced Precision Machining’s (APM’s) Colorado machine shop, this begs the question, is today’s youth up to the task in terms of their training, skill sets, and incentives if they want to enter into the manufacturing labor market?

Despite real concerns that advancing technology may lead to a shortage of job openings, quite the opposite is true; the technologies listed in the above paragraph are likely to create more jobs than they replace. The precision manufacturing sector, and the industry as a whole is still faced with a widening “skills gap” between unfilled, available jobs and finding the skilled, potential employees capable of filling them. In a recent APM post entitled “Inside the CNC Machine Shop: Combating the Employment Skills/Job Gap in 2019”, we blogged about adapting to change, and how today's machine shop ownership is challenged by a lack of qualified CNC milling and machining operators. We addressed various socio-economic indicators, and noted how 6 in 10 open productions remain unfilled because of the ongoing talent shortage, and that upwards of 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to remain vacant by the year 2025. Sobering news to be sure for those of us seeking to fill the labor pool and expand our operations.

As the demand for manufacturing services continues its growth, the precision machining sector and CNC machine shops are experiencing an increase in business. The result; many open, well-paying jobs are now available to those possessing the right skills, and younger potential workers are taking note. But as Industry 4.0 takes hold, manufacturing jobs are beginning to look somewhat different than they do now, requiring an expansion of both digital and “soft” skills that are necessary to complement the requisite hard skills employers are seeking. This means that ownership and management must take a more active role in developing talent to help fill the skills gap and consider how they will re-skill and retain their workforce as technology evolves. So, what are the pathways for training and education that will enable the must-have skills in the workplace? In-shop apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and improved educational opportunities at the high school, college, and especially the vocational level are key to adding to the growing numbers of available skilled tradespeople.

Here in the United States, vocational education is experiencing a resurgence while combating the unfounded perceptions that it's training for work that’s not very glamorous, dirty, and generally reserved for those with lesser education. Instead, modern manufacturing work is being marketed accurately for what it is in today’s evolving digital age; an exciting, creative and rewarding vocation and vocational training is a great way to reach the approximately 1.5 million high school students who annually graduate or drop out and who do not attend post-secondary education. The reality is that many manufacturing jobs now require specialized training in technology that bachelor’s programs are usually too broad to address, and this includes precision manufacturing work that doesn’t require a 4-year degree. But, our industry still needs to overcome the college-for-all narrative that has been ingrained in both parents and younger generations as the only pathway to job success and stability.

In Colorado, Advanced Precision Machining has been able to tap into the local labor market thanks in part to increased vocational opportunities for aspiring CNC machinists. In responding to the needs of local machine shops, Front Range Community College (FRCC) met with 30 local precision manufacturing companies, including APM in Longmont, to assess their hiring needs and help develop FRCC’s vocational college curriculum. Today, the program at FRCC includes an 81-hour Introduction to Machining course covering basics such as machine shop safety, CNC machine tools, shop math, and manual milling and turning lathe techniques, then continues to include more advanced courses in Intermediate Machining, Advanced Machining, and Quality Control for the Machine Shop. For more information, visit

Many high school districts, including our own local St. Vrain Valley Schools, offers vocational training in manufacturing fields. In fact, the aforementioned program at FRCC partners with St. Vrain schools to seamlessly transition students into higher education should they choose. However, many students opt to enter the workforce immediately after vocational training in grades 9-12. No matter the path they select, students today will soon reap the benefits, as will local area employers. However, the reality remains that preparing workers and solving the skills gap issue is a complex process. Leaders in manufacturing, government and education must collaborate a great deal more, spread the word,  and help implement programs such as vocational training that will make the youth of today more skill-ready to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. The message that college doesn’t make sense is rallying cry that many trade schools are using to entice new students, and it’s one that the ownership at Advanced Precision Machining endorses and encourages strongly!

Want to learn more about machine shop prototyping or have a question about 3D printing? Contact the expert CNC machinists at APM for all of your precision part needs.

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About the Author

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he and a partner began what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

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