Massachusetts workers skip the traditional get-educated-before-you-get-a-job path through manufacturing programs

Anderson Varela started work at AccuRounds in Avon this past April, running a CNC machine. Just a few months later, he got the chance to be part of a new apprenticeship program at the company, combining online and classroom work with on-the-job training. The opportunity answered a question he’d had before he started his career in the manufacturing industry.

“I was really confused in school how I would be able to better my knowledge in the field and basically move up,” Varela said. “When I started here and they mentioned the apprenticeship, it really opened my eyes.”

AccuRounds is just one of the manufacturing companies around the state piloting apprenticeship programs under a Massachusetts strategic plan. The Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) is one of several organizations helping companies get involved with the program and connecting them with educational resources. Unlike a more familiar model where people finish their education and then enter a job, Leslie Parady, workforce development manager at MassMEP, said apprenticeships combine about 150 hours of technical instruction with 2,000 hours of on-the-job training – essentially a year of full-time work.

Photo/Michael Papetti

Anderson Varela, 19

CNC machinist at AccuRounds, Avon

Pay: $16 per hour
Lives: New Bedford
Loves to laugh: Enjoys comedy, particularly Aziz Ansari, Larry the Cable Guy, Dave Chappelle, and Eddie Griffin

“You do them in parallel, and you’re sort of on two sides of a ladder, moving up each side at the same time,” she said. “The advantage for the person is that they’re going to have somebody else paying for their education. The advantage for the company is now they’re developing the workforce they need.”

When I started here and they mentioned the apprenticeship, it really opened my eyes.”

— Anderson Varela

Safe from offshoring

Diane Ferrera, director of human resources at AccuRounds, said the apprenticeship program is part of the company’s strategy to recruit and retain talented employees. She said some students and parents are wary of manufacturing careers because they get a bad rap as being dirty, or because U.S. manufacturing is seen as declining. AccuRounds specializes in precision work, often for the defense and aerospace industries, which means its jobs are largely safe from offshoring. It also means that workers there contribute to cutting-edge technology.

“Airplanes have about 2 million parts, and we make about 850 of them,” Ferrera said.

Nicholas Gulley, a CNC machinist who’s been working full-time at AccuRounds since 2013 and is about to start the apprenticeship program to improve his skills, said one of his favorite things about the company is the projects he participates in. He’s helped make parts for the Mars rover, and for Disney’s theme parks.

“It’s kind of interesting to know just where it comes from,” Gulley said.

Gulley said he already does a variety of jobs at the company, but he wants to expand his abilities.

Another AccuRounds apprentice, Helder “Larry” Canuto, is using the program to advance in his career. He’s been with the company since 2015 and currently uses hand tools to finish, polish and deburr parts. He’s now learning to run the machines as well.

“I always like to learn more stuff and move up,” he said. “It was perfect for me at this point.”

Photo/Michael Papetti

Nicholas Gulley, 24

CNC machinist at AccuRounds, Avon

Lives: East Bridgewater
Computer-minded: Builds PCs in his spare time

Photo/Michael Papetti

Helder “Larry” Canuto, 27

Advance finish at AccuRounds, Avon

Lives: Brockton
What he does: Polishing, deburring, and fixing parts after the come out of the machines.
Body builder: Enjoys working out, including weightlifting

“I always like to learn more stuff and move up. It was perfect for me at this point.”

Helder “Larry” Canuto

Kenneth Mandile, president of Oxford manufacturer Swissturn USA, which is adopting a formal apprenticeship program

High standards for quality

Swissturn USA in Oxford is another manufacturing company working toward the adoption of a formal apprenticeship. President Kenneth Mandile said the company already uses a mix of on-the-job and online training to bring workers up to speed.

“What we want to do is formalize it and make sure every employee has a plan to make sure we’ve developed them as far as they want to go and as far as we need them to go,” Mandile said. “It’s very hard to find skilled help.”

Mandile said the company hires many workers who studied machining at technical schools, but they need additional training in the specific demands of Swissturn’s machines, as well as standardized work instructions and documentation. For some workers, he said, soft skills like punctuality and workplace housekeeping can be an issue as well.

“Just because they’re younger and earlier in their career, they may not understand as well,” he said. 

Malcolm Nierodzinski, 31

Swiss machinist at Swissturn USA, Oxford

Lives: Dudley
What he does: Uses Swiss machines to create a variety of precision parts and products
Thrill seeker: Loves all power sports, including dirt bikes, four-wheelers, and driving his Jeep offroad

Even without being a formal part of the state apprenticeship program, Swissturn has already helped its employees grow on the job. Malcolm Nierodzinski, a Swiss machinist there, found the job after switching careers and taking an eight-week MassMEP course on machining.

“It was very, very challenging, which I’ve always appreciated,” Nierodzinski said. “To be able to take that blank piece of stock and turn it into pretty much whatever your mind can come up with.”

Nierodzinski said he prides himself on having high standards for quality, and on continuing to push himself to learn more. After almost four years on the job, he said, he’s continuing to learn new things from his coworkers, and he’s never bored.

“There’s absolutely no hindrance of progression, and they embrace and nurture growing within the company and personally as well,” he said. “I look forward to the future, and I definitely see a bright one here. I have so much to learn, and I have learned so much.”