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Assembly Required: Vermont Tech's New Manufacturing Degree Program Builds Better Workers

Thursday, June 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Couture

If Vermont manufacturers could design and assemble the ideal employee to join their future workforce, that person would look a lot like Ethan Guillemette.



The 24-year-old, who's built like a defensive lineman, grew up working on his family's 200-head dairy farm in Shelburne, where he learned to take apart and repair farm implements when they broke down. If his father or one of his uncles wanted to modify or improve a piece of equipment, they'd design and rebuild it themselves, as Guillemette did for his high school senior project: a 16-foot trailer he constructed from scratch. When Guillemette wasn't studying or working on the farm, he drove an 18-wheeler for Bellavance Trucking in Barre.

Such hands-on skills are increasingly rare, but manual dexterity alone doesn't explain why Guillemette, a newly minted college grad, has a wealth of job prospects to choose from. He's in demand because he also knows how to program and operate a CNC, or computer numerical code, controller to run tools such as lathes, mills, routers and grinders. He understands the fundamentals of thermodynamics, electrical conductivity, fluid dynamics, and the statics and strengths of different materials. And he can program a brand-new robot to do a "handshake," or interaction, with a milling machine that was built 30 years ago.

In short, he understands and speaks the language of advanced manufacturing. That means he can take a product from concept to design to prototype to mass production — skills that are highly valued in today's high-tech manufacturing environment.

Guillemette is one of 10 students who just graduated from a new degree program at Vermont Technical College; the four-year bachelor's of science in manufacturing engineering technology is the first of its kind in Vermont. Every member of the inaugural class has at least one job offer.

The course of study is meant to address the single biggest challenge facing the state's advanced manufacturers today: a widening skills gap between their personnel needs and those that the typical high school or college graduate can deliver.

That mismatch is "only getting bigger — significantly bigger," said Chris Gray, an assistant professor in Vermont Tech's department of mechanical engineering technology who teaches in the program.

Gray said that Vermont wants its middle-schoolers to understand how their geometry and algebra classes are applicable to fields such as advanced manufacturing so that by the time they get to high school, they'll have many more career options.

"We're thrilled to see this program actually become a reality," Bob Zider, director and CEO of the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, said of the new Vermont Tech degree. "I think it will help address the needs of our manufacturing community in a better way.

Read the full article at Seven Days


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