HUNTINGTON — During the pandemic, Tad Robinette, a US Air Force veteran and former LAPD patrol officer, was looking for something to spend his time with. Consequently, he decided to enroll in a fast track machinist training program at RCBI.
“You can’t tell someone like me that you’re going to give me all this high-tech training and you’re not going to charge me for it,” said Robinette, whose training was covered by the RCBI’s military pre-apprenticeship program. “I immediately said, ‘Sign me up!'”
After the first 100 hours of hands-on training, Robinette returned to the RCBI for 40 hours of ongoing training, driving from his home in Kanawha County to Huntington almost every day.
Robinette recently put his new found skills into business and started his own metal fabrication operation – the Liberty Hill Company. The Kanawha County resident received his first order after RCBI connected him with another West Virginia manufacturer who wanted to subcontract the production of precision parts.
Using the joint manufacturing model, where RCBI provides the equipment and know-how while customers provide an operator and raw materials, Robinette began production of 600 airflow diverters that will be used in the energy sector. He quickly realized that the traditional manufacture of parts individually on a computer-controlled mill was time-consuming – and reduced his profits.
Robinette had an idea for a jig – a special device to hold the metal being worked and guide the tools that shape it, which would allow him to produce multiple parts at once, reducing machine setups and changes. During his training at the RCBI he had met the designer Morgan Smith.
“There was a guy just a few steps away who could turn my idea into a three-dimensional object,” explained Robinette.
Smith produced 3D renderings of Robinette’s design and then 3D printed prototypes for testing. After the adjustments, Robinette made the jig out of aluminum, allowing him to make multiple parts at once.
“This allowed me to manufacture 20 parts at a time and turn raw material into hundreds of dollars’ worth of components in minutes, which not only reduced my manufacturing costs but also increased productivity and production,” he said.
Robinette said Smith’s expertise has also resulted in additional cost savings.
“Morgan was able to calculate the forces that the jig would be subjected to,” he said. “By determining the required tensile strength of the part, he concluded that I could make the part out of aluminum instead of the more expensive steel, thereby saving additional money.
“RCBI is a one-stop shop for everything you need from training to design engineering to production support,” said Robinette. “The model created here clearly works. I am proof of that.”
Officials at the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) in Huntington say they can’t produce machinists and welders fast enough to meet industry demand.
“That’s why we’re expanding our programs and developing new initiatives to train more manufacturing workers faster,” said Mike Friel, RCBI’s director of communications.
The Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University is a manufacturing technology center dedicated to promoting job creation, economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting manufacturing companies of all sizes. Its training programs help students learn the skills needed to earn nationally recognized certifications while earning college credit toward an associate degree.
Derek Scarbro, RCBI associate director and director of business development, said current efforts include expanding the machinist technology/CNC program by opening a new facility at 100 Angus E. Peyton Drive in South Charleston.
“We are in the process of opening and expect to open by Labor Day,” Scarbro said.
The South Charleston location will offer the same machinist training offered in Huntington, but on a much larger scale, according to Scarbro.
“We will be working to partner with local community colleges to provide an opportunity for individuals to pursue education through our Fast Track program as well as short-term training,” he said. “We will also offer training for current employees on the shop floor to develop or cross-skill in various skills. We offer flexible training for students to take part in hands-on training that we can customize for companies in our facility or their facility.”
RCBI is now offering students the opportunity to complete its two-year program in 18 months.
“It’s offered in our mechanical engineering/CNC program,” Scarbro said. “We hope that we can work on offering it in our welding program in the future.”
Students take summer courses and additional courses throughout the year to graduate earlier.
“A lot of students take advantage of this and come to work earlier,” he said.
RCBI is also launching a new class of RecoveryWorks, its initiative to train ex-prisoners for manufacturing jobs.
“This will start on June 8th and we currently have nine prospects and are in the process of enrolling more,” said Scarbro. “The free four-week educational program is open to individuals in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky who are interested in exploring career opportunities in manufacturing.”
Participants will receive hands-on machinist training in the operation of computer numerically controlled (CNC) mills and lathes, coupled with classroom and online instruction in blueprints, mathematics, precision metrology, computer-aided design and safety.
According to Scarbro, a stipend of $8 per hour will be paid upon completion of the program, and funds are also available to assist with travel. There is also peer counseling to support emotional development, particularly in relation to maintaining sobriety or dealing with family and friends struggling with addiction issues.
“RecoveryWorks offers a structured path to re-entering the workforce,” said Carol Howerton, RCBI Senior Strategic Advisor for Workforce Development. “Participants must be affected in some way by the opioid epidemic, either in the recovery phase itself or in dealing with or interacting with family members or friends who are struggling with a substance use disorder.”
RCBI works with support organizations and the private sector to provide a holistic approach that better prepares individuals to find and keep a job, Howerton said.
Marshall University’s Creating Opportunities for Recovery Employment (CORE) program and West Virginia Catholic Charities help identify candidates for the program and provide counseling and soft-skills training.
Scarbro said RCBI also created a military-to-manufacturing program to help veterans and transitioning military personnel into computer operator jobs or start their own manufacturing business.
“It started earlier this year,” he said. “It is a 100-hour, five-week, short-term manufacturing training course that is conducted approximately half online and half with equipment and staff. There is often no cost to the veteran.”
“Manufacturers in our region have jobs for machinists,” Howerton said. “This program will expand the talent pipeline while creating employment opportunities. Veterans tend to make great machinists because of the discipline they learned in the military, as well as the attention to detail and assertiveness required. Employers keep telling us they like hiring veterans because they are reliable.”
RCBI offers the program in partnership with the Mountwest Community and Technical College. Participants in the 60-hour training course will receive hands-on instruction in the operation of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling and lathes, as well as reading blueprints, precision measurements and safety with complementary online training through Tool U-SME.
Howerton said no previous experience is required. Financial assistance is available through the GI Bill, the Veteran Readiness and Employment Program, and Mountwest grants.
Scarbro said RCBI opened a kiosk in the Huntington Mall to educate more people about training opportunities for these in-demand careers.
“It’s right next to Center Court and has information about our training programs,” he said. “It will be open until June 15.”
West Virginia added 300 manufacturing jobs each in March and April and 1,200 last year, according to Workforce West Virginia.
“Nucor, Green Power Motor Company and others have pledged to bring at least 1,500 manufacturing jobs to Southwest Virginia over the next few years,” Friel said. “We know from discussions with company representatives that they need welders and machinists, among other things.”
Friel says RCBI’s B2BWV website provides manufacturers with a free, convenient platform for them to post job vacancies and individuals to post an up-to-date list of available jobs.
“Our students are in high demand,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI director and CEO. “More than 95% find employment in their chosen profession, many even before graduation. At RCBI, we pride ourselves on educating and preparing people for well-paying jobs while meeting industry demand for skilled workers.”