The pressure was on for a select group of 13 Desert View, Tanque Verde and Tucson high school students gathered at Pima Community College’s Downtown campus Thursday morning.
The teens were there to participate in a “speed interview” event, coordinated by the Pima County One-Stop Career Center in conjunction with PCC and Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners (SAMP), a group of more than 30 manufacturing companies in the Tucson area.
Dressed in their Sunday best, students had 15 minutes apiece with reps from 12 of those companies, including American Turbo Systems, CAID Industries and Industrial Tool, Die & Engineering to showcase their knowledge, particularly when it came to precision machinery.
One-Stop will use the results of those interviews to place the students into paid summer internships with the manufacturers to which they were best-suited.
After that’s complete, the companies will hire the students on a part-time or full-time basis, while the students work toward a certificate in Machine Shop Technology from PCC.
It’s all part of a 20-month pilot program to launch the careers of future machinists, a sector of the manufacturing industry that is losing its base, according to Gerri Brunson, workforce development specialist for One-Stop.
“Through industry outreach, it has been recognized that machinists are an aging workforce,” Brunson said. “We need a pipeline like this in order for it to continue and grow.”
Brunson said the need for machinists was first brought to One-Stop’s attention at an aerospace defense forum held in 2012. There, employers began discussing the shortage of journeyman-level machinists in the region as a factor in companies not being able to expand.
That discussion led to a survey of local manufacturing companies and a partnership with PCC, which already had its own machinist program.
SAMP was created in part to work with PCC to help strengthen its program based on the needs of the local manufacturing community.
They turned to students from Tucson and Desert View high schools because of the Career Technical Education machining programs already in place at those schools.
“We had to ask ourselves how we could feed the program,” Brunson said. “Pima had good numbers at the time, but it was more hobbyists.”
Twelve students were recruited in 2013 and 18 students in 2014.
Many of the employers at Thursday’s interviews already had students from the program’s previous years on staff.
Randy Tellam, plant manager for the manufacturing company Anewco Products Inc., was impressed with the level of knowledge students displayed during the interview process.
This was Anewco’s first time participating.
“It is interesting to find younger adults who have an interest in the manufacturing industry,” he said. “That is very difficult to find these days.”
Tellam said programs like these are invaluable for the manufacturing industry in Southern Arizona.
“It has been needed for a long time, especially with many high schools reducing their vocational studies,” Tellam said.
For the students participating, the opportunity to enter the workforce right after high school was enticing.
Ryan Valadez, a senior at Tucson High Magnet School, saw the program as a good way to kickstart his career.
Valadez’s father is a general contractor. Valadez has been working with his hands for as long as he can remember.
His goal is to use the program as a stepping stone to one day owning his own machining business.
“I have a lot of friends in college who are still thinking about what they are going to do in life,” said Valadez, 18. “This will help me get the experience I need for the future.”
Brunson said the program’s success of the program has led to the potential development of programs in other specialties, such as process test technicians, working under the same concept.
“Companies like Raytheon could place 40 process test technicians at any given time,” she said.