Looking to change careers? And get paid relatively well? Consider going into manufacturing

Barbara Griffin has worked her entire life and isn’t about to stop now. The problem: Learning a new skill and landing a new job at a time when most people her age are winding down their careers and looking forward to retirement is no easy task.
Then she learned about a class offered at The Centre for Women that trains, certifies and helps women find jobs in the manufacturing workforce -- for free.
“I have been receiving emails once a week from the Women’s Centre on various opportunities,” says Griffin, “(and when) I saw that particular class, I said, ‘Oh, what is that?’ So I signed up for it, and that’s how I ended up in the women in manufacturing (class).”
The class is an intensive three-week training course for women interested in becoming Certified Production Technicians (CPT). The class is hosted by the Centre in partnership with Hillsborough Community College, which identifies companies that will hire the women after they earn their certification.
The program is part of an initiative by the Manufacturing Alliance of Hillsborough County, with the help of local manufacturers, to build a pipeline of much-needed talent in the area’s manufacturing sector.
“We are the training partner for that alliance,” says Dr. Alessandro Anzalone, HCC dean of associates in science degree programs. “And the alliance provided us close to a million dollars for many different activities. As far as that’s (concerned), we proposed to train people on the CPT … (and) they helped us recruit the people in their training.”
In the short time since the CPT program began last year, about 300 people have earned certifications. And of those 300, how many got manufacturing jobs?
“All of them,” Anzalone says. “All of them -- in different conditions, in different work levels and different salaries, depending on what the skills are, or the requirements.”
Crash course
To earn a CPT certificate, students must dedicate themselves to what adjunct HCC professor Glenn Goonis describes as “a boot camp environment.”
“It’s a ton of knowledge that these people have to master in a short amount of time,” says Goonis, instructor of the course at the Centre. “So we have an intensive three-week training program where they’re learning the basics of manufacturing. The fact that we have funding from the Manufacturing Alliance is fantastic. We’re giving these folks an opportunity that I don’t think otherwise that they’d be able to (afford).”
CPT training provides participants with an entry-level education in the areas of safety, manufacturing processes and production, quality practices and measurement, and maintenance awareness, with additional helpful instruction in soft skills.
“So what happens when people go to this training?” Anzalone asks. “The testing is basically all multiple-choice tests of close to a hundred questions each. And the person that completes the test gets a certification and a number and gets also to register into the (MSSC) Manufacturing Standards Skills Council,” which sets the industry-defined, federally endorsed standards for CPT training.
Despite the rigors of the training, the payoff can be substantial for those who complete their certification.
“Here in Florida we find that manufacturing jobs pay an average about $10,000 more than other non-farm jobs in the state,” Goonis says. “Last I saw the average salary is about $42,000. Not entry-level; average salary. They’re good middle-class jobs, and you start at an entry level, and that’s what this certification prepares one for, but you can move up quickly.”
Finish what you start
For unemployed CPT students, the lure of immediate income is sometimes too much to resist. This accounts for an attrition rate of about 50 percent among unemployed enrollees who drop their CPT training in mid-course in order to take a low-paying job.

“They’re going to end up at WalMart, they’re going to end up maybe at the Amazon distribution center at a temp job, right?” Goonis says. “But what we want is to get that certification quickly because the manufacturing career path will be one that in the long term is better for them than a short-term taking-a-temp job. You know what I mean?”
It’s an entirely different story for CPT trainees who already have jobs and entered the program motivated only by the desire to find a higher-paying job. 

The retention rate among those trainees is “probably 90 to 95 percent,” Goonis say. “But that’s because there’s a carrot at the end of the tunnel -- to mix some metaphors. But for the unemployed it’s probably 50 to 60 percent. If we start with 30 (unemployed students) we’re going to end up with maybe 15.”
Contributing to the attrition are the demands of the CPT classroom workload. Many enrollees have never finished high school, but even for someone like Barbara Griffin, a college graduate with a master’s degree and an accomplished job history, the training is a challenge.
“I must admit it’s overwhelming because in some type of careers you can sort of guess and improvise, but you can’t guess and improvise” with CPT training, she says. “Even with safety, you think you know what you know, but (OSHA regulations are) more detail-oriented. Who is the average person who knows what OSHA is?”
“So I’m definitely going to have to cram, and either you pass or you fail,” she says. “They’re not babying you or coddling you. Either you’ve got it or you don’t have it.”
For those who do have it and complete their certification, the payoff is well worth the effort.
College credit
Anyone applying for CPT training is required to have attained at least a ninth-grade level in math and 10th-grade level in English. But if they meet those requirements and pass the class, the payoff is not just a higher paying manufacturing job but the guarantee of 15 credit hours that can be applied toward a college degree and the potentially bigger paycheck that follows.
“Fifteen credits hours is a huge deal,” Goonis says. “This is an industry-based certification, which means that you can walk into one of the 12 or 13 colleges who offer an AS (Applied Science) degree in technology, and they will give you 15 credit hours based on that certification. This is the first certification that the state of Florida recognized in an articulation agreement.”
“Now if they come and decide they want to pursue AA degree at HCC,” Anzalone notes, “they would need to complete their (high school) education or take the GED exam and pass it. (But) when people complete their CPT degree, that saves them one semester -- close to $2,000 total that it would cost them to pursue those 15 credits in the classroom.
“Besides providing the basic workforce manufacturers need, these people are on a pathway to getting even better jobs,” he says. “So now when somebody completes their (associates) degree, now we’re talking about $20 and $28 an hour. So it’s a big improvement, definitely.”
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Andy Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.