James Mathews had never set foot in a machine shop before February 2018, and like most people in Knox County’s workforce, his experience with advanced manufacturing was non-existent. But that all changed when he enrolled for WIOA career services at his local Kentucky Career Center JobSight.
“I used to be a tree climber and a roofer, dabbled around with welding, but never had anything to do with a machine shop before,” Mathews says. “When I first walked in and saw the machines, I was pretty intimidated.”
Despite his previous experience, Mathews spent some time in 2017 and early 2018 on the hunt for a new job. By February he finally decided to stop by his local KCC JobSight, located at KCEOC Community Action Partnership’s office, 464 Court Street in Barbourville.
KCEOC provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Knox County under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. Those services include programs for adults, dislocated workers, and for in-school and out-of-school youth who may need assistance honing skills such as résumé building or networking with local employers.
After meeting with his career advisor, Mathews wanted to develop skills that would help him gain new employment. That’s where he was introduced to the possibility of working in a local machine shop and was eventually placed in an On-the-Job Training (OJT) opportunity with Campbell’s Plumbing and Excavating (CPE) in the nearby community of Artemus.
As it happened, CPE owner Courtney Campbell had recently purchased a computer numeric control (CNC) machine that would enable his business to begin advanced manufacturing processes and produce a variety of parts in-house.
For Mathews, this OJT opportunity would provide just the experience he needed.
“He really took a risk in taking me into the shop like this,” Mathews says of Campbell. “I had no experience, and we just went day by day learning a little bit of everything from manual mills up to our CNC machines.”
An OJT opportunity is beneficial for both the jobseeker and the employer. In this case, Mathews gains valuable experience while the company gains an additional employee, and a portion of his salary is covered by WIOA funding for the duration of Mathews’ OJT agreement.
For Mathews, the OJT contract led to him getting the type of hands-on experience that one doesn’t get in a classroom, he says, and that helped him more quickly learn and gain the skills he needed to prepare for a new career.
“You can sit in a classroom all day long, especially for something like this, and knowledge you’re going to learn out of a book is one thing,” Mathews says. “But to be able to apply that knowledge and to be able to use the skills you’ve learned, they’re just two different ballparks.”
As it turned out, Mathews was able to turn that opportunity into a bona fide position at CPE. Mathews is currently the company’s shop supervisor, and he’s also continuing his training as part of an in-house cohort of five individuals learning how to program and manufacture parts on the company’s CNC machines.
The program at CPE came to fruition as a collaboration between several partner organizations that led to Campbell implementing the in-house training, which takes places over 16 weeks and results in industry-recognized certifications. Those partners include Digital Careers Now, the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc., Kentucky Career Center JobSight, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Hazard Community and Technical College, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).
CPE’s CNC training program was officially recognized during an event on Oct. 30, 2018 as part of the state’s apprenticeship program. Kentucky Commissioner of Workforce Investment Ray Leathers announced CPE’s new designation in person, while Campbell noted the program is helping build a new type of local workforce prepared for legitimate jobs in advanced manufacturing.
“The main thing to me is that it’s going to make a difference in Knox County. These jobs are not minimum wage jobs, they are definitely good-paying jobs,” Campbell says, adding that one day he hopes CPE can begin attracting clients from the aerospace industry.
“Hopefully in five years we’re making parts that go to the moon or beyond, from right here in Artemus,” he says.
For Mathews, he sees a future now in Knox County, and he’s excited to be affiliated with a company that has the potential for growth within an in-demand industry.
“To be able to be with a company that can grow, that’s what I’m after,” Mathews says.
If you’re in Knox County and need employment assistance, contact the Kentucky Career JobSight, Barbourville at 606-546-2639. If you live outside of Knox County, log on to jobsight.org/locations to locate your nearest Kentucky Career Center JobSight to contact a career advisor today.
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.