Not long ago, ACMT Inc., a Manchester-based manufacturer of aerospace components and other products, had about 45 employees.
These days, ACMT has around 140 workers at its two Manchester facilities and, like many Connecticut advanced manufacturers, it has trouble filling positions.
That's why ACMT, as it continues to grow and expand its engine overhaul and sheet metal operations, looks for reliable workers anywhere it can find them.
One of these talent pipelines is the Career Pathways Manufacturing Readiness Program at Goodwin College, which recently led Greg Elek of East Hartford to his first manufacturing job at ACMT.
Elek, 41, was shuffling between low-paying jobs, looking for some direction in life, when a piece of mail arrived at his home, advertising the career-readiness program.
"I saw it as a good opportunity that I didn't want to miss," Elek said one recent afternoon before starting his second-shift job running CNC machines at ACMT.
The program, funded by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, trains students for entry-level manufacturing positions.
Many, like Elek, are non-traditional students.
Goodwin College, CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership, Capital Workforce Partners, Vernon Regional Adult Based Education, and East Hartford Adult and Continuing Education are partners in the Career Pathways Project, providing recruitment, training, employment, and support services.
"It's an awesome program," said Mike Scotto, ACMT's vice president for business development.
"Without a program like that, it's difficult for us to find the talent we need."
Foot in the Door
Elek knew he couldn't afford college on his own but saw the program as a good way to get his foot in the door at a Connecticut manufacturer.
He took 18 credits worth of manufacturing courses at Goodwin but decided he wanted more training and earned 12 more credits.
Armed with knowledge of CNC machines and a clear desire to better his life, Elek began working earlier this year at ACMT.
Through his first five months, he had yet to miss a day.
You can teach anyone to be a good machinist, but you can't teach common sense, having a positive attitude, or working well with others.
But when Elek started the second shift, public transportation wasn't an option because the buses didn't run late enough.
So for several weeks, he shelled out $27 a day for a ride to and from work.
"That's dedication," Scotto said.
Elek said he's still surprised sometimes when he sees his paycheck, compared to what he earned in previous jobs.
He stopped needing a ride to work because he was able to buy a car, and recently opened his first retirement savings account.
Scotto said he knew Elek would be a good worker because he has the intangibles that can't be taught.
"You can teach anyone to be a good machinist," Scotto said, "But you can't teach common sense, having a positive attitude, or working well with others.
"Greg has all those qualities."
Elek doesn't program the CNC machines he operates, but he often stops to measure the items the machines produce.
"If the machine isn't cutting right, he has to make the adjustments," Scotto said.
CBIA program manager Deb Presbie works with students like Elek to find manufacturing careers and help fill the jobs pipeline.
"The partners work together to address barriers. Greg shows that if you have the dedication and desire, you can learn the skills," Presbie said.
For Elek, it's not just a job, it's a career.
"I love it here," he said.
Scotto said there's room for Elek to grow with the company.
"We promote from within, so you never know," he said. "We may find that after Greg's been on the job a while, he may have some good ideas and suggestions.
"We always look for people like that, and that's how an operator like Greg can one day become a department manager."
And with ACMT planning to expand to a third facility in Manchester, Scotto said, there will be plenty of opportunities for Elek's career to grow.
For more information, contact CBIA's Deb Presbie (860.244.1932).