The Apprentice Appeal

Andrew Melcher has always enjoyed making things.

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At 17 he started working as a truck mechanic where he became very interested in car restoration, design and fabrication, but was laid off in September 2009 as a result of the bad economy, which he took as an opportunity to expand his engineering and manufacturing skills through education and training.

With a full understanding that the industry’s greatest challenge is its lack of a skilled workforce coming up through the ranks, Andy decided upon moldmaking—plus the necessary school commitment was more manageable given his current situation. Also this industry would be a great stepping stone toward his strong interest in design and engineering, which he plans to use to start his own business someday.

Andy chose Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC; WI) because of its reputation for working closely with employers to prepare students for real-world work. Potential employers visit to teach students the criteria and characteristics they are looking for in their employees. WCTC follows this lead by making students accountable for attendance, teamwork, problem-solving and safety, as well as blueprint reading, setting up/holding work safely, using/programming CNC machines, using/editing AutoCAD, applying math, and operating manual mills, lathes and grinders.

Algebra and trigonometry are the most challenges aspects of the program for Andy, as well as time and project management. The most rewarding aspect is realizing he went from not knowing how to read a blueprint or what half the machines were used for to operating the machines and making parts from blueprints.

Thanks to his hard work and Instructor Robert Novak, he is now working at GKN Sinter (gknsintermetals.com)—producer of precision powder metal components the automotive industry—in the tool & die shop milling, grinding, turning, EDMing, heat treating and cleaning.

His third semester will involve Metal Technology, Mold Design, Industrial Math 3, Wire EDM, Computer-Aided Programming, and Moldmaking 1 and 2, which will help him apply his machine operation skills to mold manufacture and repair. The fourth semester will concentrate on stamping dies.

It must be noted that Andy achieved WCTC’s Outstanding Student Award this year for maintaining a positive attitude, helping others, doing more than was expected and working hard. He admits it wasn’t easy, but it was important to him to keep a positive attitude and complete assigned projects— even ones that weren’t required.

Andy believes, like many of us, that there will always be a need for moldmaking and that technology will continue to improve, presenting new opportunities. It is people like Andy who this industry needs.  If you know of an exceptional student, apprentice, program, teacher or shop, please contact me at cfuges@gardnerweb.com.