When Jeremy Sizemore enters his classroom each day, he feels like he’s stepping onto the set of the television series “How It’s Made.”

“If you like that show, you’ll like this class,” he said, referring to the show on Science network that documents how common products are manufactured. “We go through all the steps it takes to make something.”

Sometimes the assignment is planned well in advance by the instructor to ensure each student in the Machine Operator Program develops the skills needed to turn raw pieces of metal into useful products. They’ve created tools, parts for machines, even an entire chess set. Recently, they’ve also come to the aid of community members who needed very specific items – a missing part for a carburetor and a lock plate for a piece of outdoor machinery.

They don’t always know what they’ll be making next, but they’ve learned the fundamentals to make just about anything that can be created from the raw materials and lab equipment at their disposal. And Jeremy and his classmates say that’s precisely what drew them to the program.

“If you like working with your hands, that’s exactly what we do,” said Ben Reynolds. “It’s a really good program that leads to a good career.”

Ben graduated from Patrick Henry High School in 2017 and, although he knew he still had plenty to learn, admits he wasn’t overjoyed by the prospect of spending more time in a classroom. He’s always liked working with his hands, doesn’t mind “getting a little bit dirty,” and gets satisfaction from seeing the results of his hard work. The Machine Operator Program seemed liked the perfect fit.

Joseph Graves said he decided to enroll when he moved back to the region and discovered that machinists are in high demand locally. He’s spent more of his career in manufacturing – working throughout the U.S. and China – and already holds degrees in both engineering and law, he said. When he interviewed for his dream job with a local industry a few months ago, he found out the company was searching for someone with the technical skills he’s now learning through the Machine Operator Program.

Jeremy, Ben, and Joseph have become unofficial ambassadors for the program because they’re excited about what they’ve learned. In a few months, they’ll each graduate with a Career Studies Certificate, plus OSHA 10 and Lean Six Sigma certification. They know how to read blueprints and use the leading machining software – including Fusion 360, Mastercam, and AutoCAD. And, they’ve completed three separate certification courses for mills and lathes manufactured by Haas, one of the nation’s leading providers of machining equipment.

“In our industry, these extra certifications are huge,” Joseph said. “That will be a big plus for us when we’re out there looking for jobs.”

Oh, and there’s one more thing.

Through a generous grant from the Gene Haas Foundation, each student enrolled in the program this year received a $500 stipend and a tool box filled with professional tools that were carefully selected by Instructor Johnnie Keene. The tools are valued at about $2,000.

“In this business, you’re expected to have your own tools,” Johnnie explained. “When these students graduate, they’ll be ready to go to work.”

And finding a job shouldn’t be hard because there are more than 30 businesses in the region that hire trained machinists who, like the students in the VHCC program, know how to start from scratch – evaluate what is needed, take the necessary measurements, develop a plan, and use the manual or computerized machining equipment to produce a perfect part. The same skills they’ve already used to create tiny pieces for their chess board can be used to create intricate parts for the equipment needed to keep a large industry operating, Johnnie said.

“We keep the door (of the machining lab) open when we’re in here working,” Joseph added. “We want people to look in and see what we’re doing. We get a lot of questions from people who didn’t even know we had this program.”

To learn more about VHCC’s Machine Operator Program, please email jkeene@vhcc.edu. Registration for Fall Semester 2018 begins March 19.