Bridging the Skills Gap

Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School trains carpentry and cabinetmaking students with Alphacam and Cabinet Vision

Many manufacturers who embrace technology to remain competitive find that implementing the latest machinery and software can be easier than finding the skilled labor needed to successfully use it.

When it comes to bridging a widening skills gap, institutions like Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School of Fall River, Mass., are a welcome resource for industry leaders in search of well-trained and talented employees.

“The demand for skilled labor is there, because everyone needs CNC programmers,” says Manny Botelho, head of Diman Regional’s carpentry and cabinetmaking department and junior cabinetmaking instructor. “The demand for skilled labor is so high that we don’t even have enough students to meet that demand.”

While robots have replaced their human predecessors in some factory jobs, manufacturing positions in many other areas continue to grow, and to evolve. At Diman Regional, the goal is to train a highly-employable workforce competent with the latest technologies without sacrificing traditional, quality craftsmanship.

“First off, they must know how a cabinet goes together,” Botelho says. “Our students are one step ahead because they know how everything physically goes together, and then they learn how to run the programs and use all of the tools at their disposal.”

For more than a decade, Diman Regional has been using the Alphacam computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution for wood, stone and metal, by Vero Software, to train its students in the carpentry and cabinetmaking trade. The school also plans to implement Vero Software’s Cabinet Vision design-to-manufacturing solution in the near future.

“The student body we’re dealing with come in as freshmen and they really have no experience,” Botelho says. “We teach them the trade itself — such as hand skills — and then we move on to CNC skills.”

"There are a lot of software companies out there, but most of the employers who are hiring our kids use Alphacam and Cabinet Vision. They don’t want to spend hundreds of hours teaching employees.”

Manny Botelho, head of Diman Regional’s carpentry and cabinetmaking department, and junior cabinetmaking instructor

While Alphacam is ideal for programming and managing complex shapes, Cabinet Vision is specifically designed to draw, program and manage all aspects of cabinetry projects. Teaching both systems, Botelho says, will ensure that there’s nothing that Diman Regional’s graduates cannot accomplish once they’re in the workforce. Training students both solutions will also make them even more desirable for some of the nation’s top woodworking businesses.

“There are a lot of software companies out there, but most of the employers who are hiring our kids use Alphacam and Cabinet Vision,” Botelho says. “They don’t want to spend hundreds of hours teaching employees. They want them to be able to use it quickly, and for the software to be user friendly.”

David Barata graduated from Diman Regional in 2013 and now works for Herrick & White Architectural Woodworkers, based in Cumberland, R.I., where Alphacam and Cabinet Vision are used. Like all freshmen at Diman Regional, Barata was able to choose from among 12 disciplines, including electronics, culinary arts, dental assisting, health assisting, drafting, and more.

After a 12-week exploratory program, during which students spend one week being introduced to each discipline, Barata ultimately chose carpentry and cabinetmaking.

“I’m happy with my choice because it did prepare me very well for the workforce, and it showed me how to do home construction and fine cabinetry,” Barata says.

While a student at Diman Regional, Barata also competed in SkillsUSA competitions, which support bridging the skills gap by encouraging junior high, high school and college students to build and demonstrate their vocational skills.

As an individual membership, non-profit organization, SkillsUSA is a national partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure that the U.S. has a skilled workforce. Cabinet Vision and Alphacam Software Consultant Paul Corey has been a volunteer judge for SkillsUSA for several years and, as such, dedicates his time to promoting the development of vital vocational skills.

Barata participated in SkillsUSA during his sophomore, junior and senior years at Diman Regional, placing three times at the state level and twice at the national level. The competitions include timed written and skills portions and, for the cabinetry portion, each contestant is required to build a project in real time.

“It was an incredible experience,” Barata says of competing in SkillsUSA. “I got to meet kids from all over the country, and the energy at the opening and closing ceremonies was unbelievable. It’s a really rewarding experience for the kids who get to participate.”

Participants in SkillsUSA contests begin competing each year at the regional level and, if they do well, progress to the state and national levels. Diman Regional students have won gold — in other words, placed first — in 10 of the past 12 annual state SkillsUSA contests. The school has also placed in the top 10 nationally six times in in the past 12 years.

Noah Gouveia, another SkillsUSA participant, graduated from Diman Regional in 2016 and is currently employed at Superior Drywall, Inc., of Fall River, Mass.

“I definitely like the hands-on stuff, and I really liked to build stuff as a kid,” he says of his decision to attend Diman Regional. Though he considered training to be an electrician, Gouveia found that he preferred woodworking and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it.

Gouveia participated in SkillsUSA during his sophomore, junior and senior years at Diman Regional, placing in the state competitions each time and ultimately taking the bronze in nationals his senior year.

Andre Camara, a 2015 Diman Regional graduate, is now also an employee at Harrick & White, where he works as a designer.  While he knew that vocational high school was the right choice for him, he didn’t discover a passion for woodworking until after he enrolled.

“I actually went to Diman thinking that I would go into the culinary arts program, but I liked the atmosphere of the woodworking program and decided to stay,” says Camara, who began his job at Harrick & White in the fabrication department. “It’s very family oriented. Every day I went to Diman, I felt like I was working with my family.”

Like many students, Camara was first introduced to his present employer through the school’s co-op program, through which students — beginning in the middle of junior year — are able to work on real job sites. Co-op students alternate between spending two weeks on job sites and two weeks at school.

“Instead of coming to school for two weeks, they go out to work for a company for two weeks — and they get paid for it,” Botelho says. “They’re making $500-$600 a week. It’s a privilege to be in the co-op program, and many of them stay with the companies.”

The co-op program is popular with companies in need of skilled staff, as the program also gives the company an opportunity to see if the trainees will be ideal for permanent positions.

“Right now, we have more jobs than students for the co-op,” Botelho says. “Companies come out to visit us, to see what we’re doing and what we have to offer. We like to focus on large, established companies, the kind that are working on $100,000-$150,000 projects. We’re targeting companies like those for our students.”

McKenna Pastrenak is currently a senior at Diman Regional, where she participates in the co-op program and works for Horner Millwork of Somerset, Mass. While Pastrenak is a technology buff, she is currently working on the shop floor, making small posts and hand rails. In the fall of 2017, she will begin a two-year community college program at earn her CNC license.

“I’m really good on computers and I really like drawing, which helped me a lot with Alphacam because I can visualize,” Pastrenak says. “Once I made a unicorn design, and it was really easy because Alphacam is very flexible. I really like to use technology and am excited to be going into the CNC program.”

Botelho is quick to point out that Diman’s students receive plenty of one-on-one instruction, as the school serves 24 students per grade level in the carpentry and cabinetmaking division. Of those 24, half are learning in the shop and half are in the classroom, learning standard high school academics, at any given time.

“That boils down to about 12 students per instructor, and we have a total of 6 instructors in the shop, so they receive a lot of personal instruction.”

Of the roughly 600 students who apply to Diman Regional each year, only about 365 are admitted, and the carpentry and cabinetmaking program can accommodate 100 students per year. Including all of the other disciplines taught at the school, Diman Regional serves about 1,400 students annually.

“You have to have good grades, discipline and attendance to attend Diman,” Botelho says. “The students actually want to be here. We would love to expand our program to be able to serve more students because the demand is there.”

Botelho also hopes that changing attitudes about vocational education will help to ensure brighter futures for more young adults who will ultimately support the future of manufacturing.

“What makes our students different is work ethic,” he says. “Some say that work ethic cannot be taught, but it can, and these kids put the effort forward.”


About the Company

Name: Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School

Business: To develop the unique potential of each learner

Websitedimanregional.org


Benefits Achieved

  • Alphacam and Cabinet Vision are ideal educational tools because many employers use the software
  • Graduates have practical training and are prepared for the demands of using CNC equipment and software on the job
  • The software is a valuable visualization tool for students

Comments

“There are a lot of software companies out there, but most of the employers who are hiring our kids use Alphacam and Cabinet Vision. They don’t want to spend hundreds of hours teaching employees.”

Manny Botelho, head of Diman Regional’s carpentry and cabinetmaking department, and junior cabinetmaking instructor


 

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