Future employment opportunities for students trained in the machinist fields is promising in Utah, but dwindling enrollment in machine tool technology programs has sparked concern at Utah Valley Community College.
Enrollment figures for the past five years indicate a waning interest in machine tool trades, despite the availability of jobs and competitive salaries. The program eventually could be dropped if the current trend continues, said Vard Roper, machine tool technology department chairman.The department offers machinist, manufacturing technology and gunsmith majors, and can handle an enrollment of 106 students. Roper said current enrollment is only 36.
"We're losing ground," Roper said of the dropping enrollment. He said cooperative education programs and jobs are going unfilled because the department doesn't have enough students to fill the positions.
Roper and Robert Hall, professor of computer-controlled equipment, attribute dropping enrollment to lack of information about the machine trades and the associated job market. Because he expects as many as 500 machinist jobs to be created in Utah over the next five years, Roper said, he feels trades-oriented people should be acquainted with UVCC's machine tool technology programs.
Though other colleges offer similar training as part of larger programs, "We are the last pure machine shop in the state at the college level," Roper said. Because of the need for people skilled in machine trades, closing the program would prove detrimental to both the state and local industry.
Hall said industry may have to start importing trained machinists because it can no longer depend on finding enough employees coming out of local programs.
"It's got to the point that they don't look to the college level for students anymore," he said. "They pick someone up off the street with a good attitude and train the person themselves."
Hall said female machinists are especially in demand. The department recently placed one woman before she completed her program.
Roper said some students who have dropped out of high school or four-year college programs do well in the machine trades program, making themselves employable upon graduation.
Machine tool technology graduates who can't find jobs usually don't want jobs, Hall added. "If they finish the program, they can be guaranteed a job."
Hall said UVCC is doing what it can to keep machine tool technology equipment up to date. The department is busily seeking grants to purchase state-of-the-art computer equipment for the machine shop and to fund increased cooperation with industry in training students.
"We're looking for grants any place we can get them to try and upgrade our program," Hall said. "We've got the modern equipment in, but some equipment the beginners are learning on is older than it should be."
Average students per year enrolled in machine tool technology programs at Utah Valley Community College.