FORT LEE, Va. (July 28, 2016) -- Transitioning or recently separated service members can now apply for a free 18-week training course to qualify them as computer numeric controlled machinists and open new career opportunities in the ever-growing manufacturing industry.

"This is a huge opportunity worthy of consideration," said Bruce Sobczak, director of workforce development, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. "A lot of job openings exist in this area, and the need for qualified workers is enormous. There is a skills gap particularly among mid-level technicians -- qualified individuals with more than a high school diploma but less than a college degree. This specialized training can put individuals on that path."

CCAM is an applied research center that addresses challenges some of the most advanced manufacturing companies are facing. According to Sobczak, it is the only private/public collaboration of its kind in North America. CCAM Workforce Development is grant-funded and creates "synergistic collaborations between industry members and colleges and universities to create an industry-centric, high performance workforce," making Virginia the site of choice for advanced manufacturing firms.

"A machining skills training program like ours would usually take two years minimum at a community college," said Sobczak. "We found a way to train service members in three months' time."

The hybrid instructional program started in 2015, he explained.

"We took a logical approach," Sobczak said. "Our thought was, 'Let's take this transitioning Soldier and industry demands, and develop an instructional program that meets the minimum skill requirements to fill the job gaps. We targeted machinist positions -- high paying and high demand. It is what our manufacturers are telling us they need right now."

CCAM partnered with Southside Virginia Community College to offer the machining skills course, which Sobczak described as "less academic classroom lectures and more toward the on-the-job training realm."

Because it's designed to build skills "from the ground-level up," no prior experience or special qualifications are required to qualify for course attendance. The first step to apply is contacting the Soldier for Life -- Transition Assistance Program at (804) 734-6615. That office will assist with a federal funding approval application under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. In addition, contact Debra Smiley, director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education, SVCC at (434) 949-1060.

The course starts with seven weeks of interactive online training, which can be done at one's own pace. "The online portion introduces the tools, equipment and typical expectations of a machine shop." Sobczak noted.

During the second phase of the course, students participate in 11 weeks of project-based lab training at the Southside Virginia Education Center, Emporia, south of Fort Lee along Interstate 95.

"Each class is usually limited to 10 individuals," Sobczak said. "Once the training begins, the group starts work on a series of projects. They are treated like they are on the job. We run it like a real machine shop. They can be there up to eight hours a day, five days a week, for the 11 weeks. They are required to get a minimum of five industry recognized certifications before the end of the program (four from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills and one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Many earn six or seven credentials; it's really a matter of what they can handle with the workload.

"The certifications earned are what industry has said they need to immediately place people on the shop floor," he added. "Employers will want to see the OSHA certification because it shows the individual won't be a danger to himself or others."

Upon graduation, CCAM helps with job placement through its connection with 62 corporations such as Rolls Royce, Newport News Shipbuilding, Kosmo Machine, BGB Technologies and Enclos Inc. Every one of the service members who have attended the certification program thus far have been offered a job after class completion, according to Sobczak.

"When participants are done with the class, they are ready to go on the shop floor," he concluded. "Our program focuses on the must-haves, what you need to know to get your foot in the door and give the manufacturer value from day one. After that, you're on your way to what has the potential of being a very high-paying career."