Federal initiative expands to Minnesota to train next generation of machinists

Federal initiative expands to Minnesota to train next generation of machinists

Federal initiative expands to Minnesota to train next generation of machinists

A Department of Defense initiative is now expanding into Minnesota.

America’s Cutting Edge, or ACE, hopes to inspire a new generation of machinists, the people who help make critical parts for everything from airplanes to medical devices.

ACE launched in 2020 with the goal of creating machine tool training centers across the country.

Two new innovation and workforce development centers will open in Minnesota — at the University of St. Thomas and St. Cloud State University.

“We’re very excited to be the first group here in Minnesota,” said John Wentz, associate professor and director of advanced manufacturing at the University of St. Thomas. “There’s a huge demand out there for machinists and machine operators.”

There were 1,289 job openings for machinists in Minnesota in 2022, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

DEED noted that was the highest number of openings ever reported for machinists in Minnesota.

The median wage offer for machinists climbed to $30.58 in 2022, up almost 53% from the year before, according to DEED.

“CNC machining, or computer numerical controlled machining, is basically robotic machining,” Wentz explained. “All industries in the Twin Cities that are in manufacturing need it, from biomedical defense to aerospace. We can design a part and then cut away everything we don’t want from that block of metal. This gives us very accurate components that can be used in all of these different industries.”

Wentz said the ACE program will offer free introductory courses in machining, including online classes and hands-on training.

At the University of St. Thomas, the DOD funding will allow for the purchase of another CNC machine.

The university will start offering ACE to School of Engineering students this spring and run weeklong boot camps for the public starting this summer.

“This could be high school students, this could be veterans, this could be people looking to re-skill, coming back and saying, ‘What’s a new path for me to take?'” Wentz said.

Mechanical engineering student Max Redfearn, a senior at St. Thomas, will serve as a teaching assistant with ACE participants this spring.

He said working with CNC machines has allowed him incredible opportunities, such as creating suspension components for off-road racecars with Tommie Motorsports.

“Being able to take a random block of metal and make it into something unique and special is definitely cool,” Redfearn said.

He hopes to pass the love of manufacturing on to others.

“I think the biggest thing is just exposure,” Redfearn said. “And that’s how we’re going to be stronger and create better products in the end.”

The ACE program aims to not only fill skills gaps, but also to revitalize American manufacturing by investing in machine tool innovation.

Wentz said training more American workers in this sector will allow more products to be made here at home, instead of relying on foreign-made products.

“The Department of Defense is looking at this workforce gap. If something breaks up our supply chain and we’re unable to make our components here because we don’t have the people who can make them anymore, that’s now a national security issue,” Wentz said.

He noted the ACE program will allow people to jumpstart their training in manufacturing, thanks to the free course, and they can decide the next steps in their career path from there.

For more information on the ACE program or to apply, click here.