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RCBI extends training program for future women machinists to Bridgeport


The State Journal

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va.  — North Central West Virginia employers have a need for skilled workers, and a program that has helped women in the Huntington area transition into those jobs is about to open a second operation in Bridgeport.

“At this point, we know it will be sometime in 2018. It will take us some time to get things in place and recruit women who will take part in the program at Bridgeport,” said Mike Friel, public information specialist for the Robert C. Byrd Institute office in Huntington.

“We already have the facilities and the equipment and the instructors. It’s just recruiting women to be part of the program.”

The 10-week Step Up for Women Program prepares women for manufacturing careers by teaching them the skills they need to succeed as machinists or in related industrial occupations. The program is a partnership between West Virginia Women Work and RCBI’s Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Partnership.

The program is offered twice a year at RCBI’s office in downtown Huntington. So far 36 women have graduated from the tuition-free program, with most finding employment as full-time machinists or paid apprentices, Friel said.

RCBI has three operations throughout the state to support economic development and growth across the Mid-Atlantic region. It lends its expertise in manufacturing, technology, workforce development and its equipment to help manufacturers bring ideas from concept to market.

Along with the main office in Huntington and one in Bridgeport, RCBI operates an office in South Charleston. The Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Bridgeport primarily serves the aerospace, transportation, composites, government, and oil and gas markets. It houses the Composites Technology & Training Center, a project of RCBI and NASA. The center also offers its Design Works lab where innovators, entrepreneurs and others can turn their ideas into reality through additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing.

North Central West Virginia has a shortage of workers trained in skilled trades, said Katherine D. Wagner, president of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s getting tougher. We desperately need trades workers,” she said, listing electricians, plumbers and welders as being in short supply. Machinists “definitely fall into that category,” she said.

Friel said women who participate in the program are taught several skills, such as blueprint reading and precision measuring.

“A sixty-fourth of an inch is a mile in machining. Tolerances sometimes are in thousandths of an inch,” he said,

Along with technical skills, women are taught life skills such as money management and how to apply for a job.

“We want these women to be well-rounded. In addition to the training, we want them to have the life skills to succeed,” he said.

One woman who completed the program at Huntington had never had a job that paid more than minimum wage, Friel said. Another got a job that allowed her to take her family on a vacation for the first time, he said.

Women enrolled in the pre-apprenticeship program receive free tuition and travel reimbursements as well as work clothes, boots and other safety gear. Upon graduation, they are prepared for entry-level manufacturing jobs and apprenticeships.

RCBI Bridgeport will provide machinist instructors, classroom space and access to its advanced manufacturing equipment as part of its woman in manufacturing program’s expansion into North Central West Virginia.

RCBI offers its Apprenticeship Works’ Step Up for Women program twice a year in Huntington. The program is now recruiting women for its next class, Friel said.

Staff Writer Jim Ross can be reached at 304-395-3483 or email at [email protected]

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