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Petaluma High metal shop wins $45,000 grant

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation has named Dan Sunia's Petaluma High School manufacturing technology program as one of only 15 model workforce training programs in the nation to receive a $45,000 Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) grant over a three-year period.

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Dan Sunia, manufacturing technology teacher at Petaluma High School, configures an automated CNC milling machine. He is also president and apprentice program coordinator for the California Tooling and Machining Apprenticeship Association.

The Business Journal

The award was announced Wednesday at the 101MFG (101mfg.com) annual dinner at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, attended by senior executives of area manufacturing firms, board members of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, local SME chapter members and a number of honored guests. 101MFG was instrumental in applying for this award.

The model schools grant includes $35,000 over three years to update manufacturing equipment, CAD/CAM software and to help pay for instructor training.

It also includes an additional $10,000 over two years to launch and build a Gateway Academy, six- to nine-week summer boot camp program, to ensure that the pipeline of students interested in manufacturing continues to be filled.

Mr. Sunia is a 30-year veteran machinist who began his career at the former U.S. Navy shipyard at Mare Island in Vallejo. He has been running the metal shop at Petaluma High School for 10 years. Several of his shop students have gone on to enroll at Cal Poly, while others have entered apprenticeship programs to become trained machinists.

“Most of my friends and my generation came up through apprenticeships,” Mr. Sunia said. “Programs like ours in Petaluma don't exist at most high schools anymore because, as a society, we forgot that students who want to be engineers or aspire to a good career opportunity need a hands-on education. This is especially true in today's advanced manufacturing industry.”

Mr. Sunia said the program is honored that Petaluma High School's program is among a select group in the U.S. to receive this grant.

“And we thank the many local manufacturers, our own SME Chapter, and 101MFG for the support they've provided over many years,” he said.

The Highway 101 corridor in Sonoma County is a technological powerhouse with more than 150 manufacturers including Agilent Technologies, IDEX, ITT, Parker, Enphase Energy, General Dynamics, JDSU, L3, Labcon and many others with facilities in the region.

Mr. Herman estimates there may be 500 injection-molding machines in our area, such as those utilized by Small Precision Tools for ceramic injection molding.

“These machines require tool-makers, machinists, operators and maintenance techs to make these molds,” he said.

Local companies are also engineering and building key parts for Boeing aircraft, military sensors and controls, microwave communications, solar inverters, medical instrumentation, laboratory supplies and surgical devices.

After conducting an extensive Bay Area survey of 14 job categories among 300 manufacturers (including 55 in Sonoma County), 101MFG forecasts 2,000 new manufacturing jobs will be created over the next few years — despite warnings of continued high unemployment rates in other industry job classifications.

“The message from these manufacturers is clear. They definitely need engineers, but for every engineer they hire, they also need three or four machinists, assembly techs and quality inspectors. These jobs are not only well paid, they form the basis for long-term careers,” Mr. Herman said.

Industry experts also say that over 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled across the nation today.

According to Bart Aslin, CEO of the SME Education Foundation, “Manufacturing is relevant again. Our mission is to help make stronger connections between skilled and energetic instructors like Petaluma High School's Dan Sunia and organizations including SME and 101MFG who bring local manufacturers together to prepare their future workforce. SME is delighted to recognize and to help support the expansion of this program in Northern California.”

A portion of grant funds will be used to reach out to more teachers — helping them to integrate academic and technical curricula — as well as to find students and schools interested in similar high school career technical programs, such as the manufacturing career path program at Healdsburg High, the welding shop at Santa Rosa High, and the wood shop at Rancho Cotati High.

The goal of SME and 101MFG is to bring industry and organization partners into the classroom to insure relevant connections are established between the curriculum being taught and the real world.

“We've produced a generation of kids who are book smart, but who have never made a real metal or plastic part,” said Jim Happ, CEO of Labcon North America, a firm that produces eight percent of the world's laboratory pipettes and centrifuge tubes — and one that is currently bringing back work from Mexico.

According to Che Voigt, founder of Sonoma Design Group that later became L3 Sonoma, “My parents moved their first company (now General Dynamics OTS) from Los Angeles to Sonoma County in 1980. There was high tech manufacturing in the area at that time, but not the diverse base we have now. We were fortunate that when a talented engineer, technician or professional moved to this area — they seldom wanted to leave.”

However, as skilled employees in the Baby Boom generation retire, the need for replacement machinists and technical workers will increase. This is why high school, trade, junior college and university programs are already seeing much more demand for well-qualified applicants, Mr. Herman said.

“Local government, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and area businesses are very supportive and have formed a public/private collaborative in Sonoma County, called BEST (Building Economic Success Together). Their mission is to promote the retention, attraction and growth of local businesses and to ensure that their future workforce is prepared,” Mr. Herman added.

To provide additional ongoing support for this effort, 101MFG helped Enphase engineer Glenn Mattsson form the local SME Chapter 431 last year.

Working together with 101MFG manufacturers, SME members can serve as mentors for high school and college students interested in pursuing manufacturing-related careers.

SME Chapter 431 will also coordinate tours of local manufacturers and provide onsite job-shadowing opportunities.

101MFG is a private alliance of over 100 manufacturing executives throughout Northern California, including all nine Bay Area counties, dedicated to becoming “California's next great manufacturing center.”

The SME Education Foundation (smeef.org), established in 1979, has provided more than $31 million in grants, scholarships and awards through its partnerships with corporations, organizations, foundations and individual donors.

The foundation is committed to changing the future of manufacturing education and addressing the shortage of manufacturing and technical talent in the U.S.

The PRIME initiative builds on SME's five-year, $5.2 million investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-based education programs supporting workplace development.

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