Georgia Northwestern student Mark Shields, left, watches Georgia Northwestern Machine Tool Instructor Phil Shirley do a demonstration on one of the many pieces of state-of-the-art machinist equipment in the Machine Tool lab on the Walker County Campus of GNTC. Fellow student Kevin Lamberth also takes in the demo.

 

(Rock Spring, Georgia) – Almost one year ago, Blue Bird Bus Corporation rolled out of LaFayette, Georgia in order to keep the company competitive in tough economic times. And now, almost one year later, three former workers laid-off by the company are on the verge of a new business venture themselves.

 “I thought I’d be there for the rest of my career,” said Mark Shields, a 42-year old Rock Spring, Georgia resident. “I was a welder for 13 years at Bluebird and all of the sudden it was gone.” Shields and hundreds of his former co-workers got the announcement one year ago.

Bluebird did offer Shields and his 350 former co-workers new jobs at their headquarters in Fort Valley, Georgia. “That would mean us ripping our families, our children out of their schools and their homes,” said Chad Lanier, a 30-year old LaFayette, Georgia resident. “Either that or we’d have to rent apartments down there and drive home every weekend. Where does that leave me and my family?”

 “Thanks to different kinds of assistance, we are able to attend college to be trained in Machine Tool Technology and it’s all paid for,” said Lamberth, a 37-year old Rock Spring, Georgia resident. “I have two girls going into LaFayette Middle and LaFayette High School this coming year and I’m getting to see them more than ever these days as a result. And, it’s all while I’m getting paid to train for this new phase in my life.”

One year after GNTC staffers and other state representatives met with the 350 former Bluebird workers about future possibilities, Shields, Lanier, and Lamberth are set to start their new career paths this fall. All three are set to complete their Machine Tool programs at Georgia Northwestern, earning a diploma in that field of study.

“Companies in our area have openings that they will more than be qualified to handle,” said Phillip Shirley, Machine Tool Technology Director at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. “It’s a shot these guys are excited about. It’s a career they’ll now be prepared for. The layoffs are unfortunate. But, they’ll tell you they probably wouldn’t have taken the opportunity unless that had happened.”

Thanks in part to the Workforce Investment Act, these students, along with thousands of others across the country, are able to afford to go to college to retrain for a new career. Funding can help with everything from books to child care to fuel to make it to college each day. WIA offices are located in Technical College System of Georgia institutions across the state. The WIA offices for Georgia Northwestern are directly supported by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission in Rome, Georgia.

Machine Tool specialists make a median hourly pay rate of more than $18 an hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. With approximately a half-million machine tool positions available in the United States, more people are choosing careers in other fields in 2011. As a result, more and more openings are now available for those training to become machinists.

“For years, I’ve been telling my kids to get a good education,” said Shields. “Well, now I’m getting the chance to show them first-hand what I am talking about.” For many in the trade, it’s a family affair. “Many of those who have signed up for the program have someone in the family who is a machinist or has been a machinist before,” said Shirley.
Regardless of age, Shirley says most of the companies in our region are looking for machine tool workers to get the job done. “We usually have more non-traditional or older students in the program than those who are just out of high school,” said Shirley. “That’s a shame really. You see, there are really good paying careers in this field just waiting for them right now. And they are opportunities in their own backyard.” Shirley says that those who excel in the field are usually those who are hands-on in nature and have math skills.

 

For more information on the Machine Tool Program at Georgia Northwestern, contact Phil Shirley at (706) 764-3693. For information on opportunities with WIA, contact the Georgia Northwestern WIA offices at (706) 764-3562 or (706) 295-6840.