Grayson College opened the doors to its new mechatronics lab on Monday, as the college relaunches its machining certification classes after mothballing the program for years. In the self-paced program, students learn to work with industrial lathes, cutting tools, and other heavy machinery as they earn three levels of certification and the opportunity to test for National Institute for Metalworking Skills credentials.

Grayson College opened the doors to its new mechatronics lab on Monday, as the college relaunches its machining certification classes after mothballing the program for years. In the self-paced program, students learn to work with industrial lathes, cutting tools, and other heavy machinery as they earn three levels of certification and the opportunity to test for National Institute for Metalworking Skills credentials.


Grayson stopped offering the programs in 2007 due to market saturation of skilled workers within the industry. Nearly a decade later, the machining industry is in dire need of machinists.


"There are not many machinists left. A lot of people left," said Mike Garner, a foreman at a local machinist’s shop in Sherman. "There is definitely a need here."


"With relationship building within the industry, and nurturing those relationships, we won’t have that problem again," said Jan Crumpton, executive director for the Center for Workplace Learning at Grayson, referring to the 2007 closure. "I don’t think we could train enough machinists in 50 years on the national level."


The program was moved from its original home at the maintenance shop to the Career and Technology Center, which was built since the program’s original closure. The college spent $198,000 on machinery for the program, using funds provided from the Skills Development Fund Grant from the Texas Workforce Commission.


Plans to return the program to the college’s curriculum started about a year ago, said Crumpton. Industry leaders approached the school, with a need for trained machinists and continued training for current employees, she said.


"People think they can do it, but being a fast learner doesn’t mean you can do it," said Garner, who said he has been approached by potential employees who needed additional training before they could join the workforce.


Crumpton said the current focus for the program is on students with some workplace experience who are looking to continue their certifications and education. The college is in dialogue with local high schools to create career-pathway courses. The program recently acquired a timing machine to use with high school students to measure aptitude.


While the first class for the new program hosts only six students, Jim Waters, an instructor for the program and Grayson College graduate, said it has enough room for about 40 students in the classroom and six working the machines at any one time. The program features a combination of computer-base study, with the machine shop open for three days a week to allow students to work on projects. Working at a decent pace, Waters said, the entire program would take a student about nine months to complete.


Don Montgomery is one of the six students in the first class. Montgomery, who worked for 35 years in the agriculture machinery industry, said he wanted to improve his skills to make better use of his own shop at his home. Montgomery heard about the plans to reopen the program through another student during a body shop course.


"I just kinda lucked into it," said Montgomery.


In her work in promoting the program, Crumpton said she has put special attention into reducing the stigma that surrounds the industry. Some parents have, in the past, pushed their children away from the industry, thinking that machine work and maintenance is demeaning, she said.


"Some machinists make $300,000 with aviation," said Crumpton. "Where else can you do that?"