SCHAUMBURG - “Now that you’re graduating, make sure that you never stop learning. Keep that same drive you showed in class. You truly have a bright future ahead of you,” Technology & Manufacturing Association's instructor Jack Krikorian said, just before handing certificates to graduates of TMA’s 2016 CNC Programming course in May.
The 2016 CNC Programming graduates Krikorian was encouraging were the latest in a line of machinists, mold makers and tool & die makers in whose training he has played a crucial part.
Thirty-one years ago, Krikorian himself enrolled in TMA’s Tool & Die Apprenticeship program after graduating from high school and going to working for MIK Tool & Die.
He says his early interest in tool making sparked when his father would take him along to visit his work on weekends.
“My dad was a model maker in the trade. I would go with him on weekends to his shop at Hughes Aircraft,” Krikorian said. “The machines fascinated me even as a kid. I was always interested in tinkering on things – I even worked in a bicycle shop during high school.”
After leaving completing his TMA apprenticeship, Krikorian built rubber molds eight years for the automotive industry at Sarkol. He then began a mold making at Rexam Mold Manufacturing, where he built and supervised high cavitation plastic injection mold projects for 18 years.
After spending some time in supervisor positions, Krikorian returned to Rexam’s shop floor, following a passion to build an in-house model apprenticeship program for mold makers.
Four and a half years ago, Krikorian joined TMA to update and upgrade the association’s apprenticeship program. TMA’s training program now boasts 150 students in three major lines of coursework - CNC programming, tool & die and mold making. At the May 2016 graduation, 46 of those students completed their apprenticeships.
While Krikorian urged the TMA graduates to continue learning and honing their skills, he wasn’t telling them to do anything he hasn’t done himself. Always learning and honing his own machine skills, Krikorian now holds 26 National Institute for Metalworking Skills certifications – more than any other known American.
After 30 years in the industry, Krikorian still gets excited when he talks about manufacturing and encouraging another generation into the trade.
“The work is never boring. It’s very different from week to week. I loved the challenge itself,” Krikorian said. “We take a blueprint, order the materials the project requires, then determine the process we have to go through. I visualize the finished piece from a two-dimensional sheet of paper to the end result. It’s never boring.”
Krikorian attributes the current and growing shortage of skilled machinists to a couple of things – the short-lived mindset that manufacturing could be done cheaper overseas and the 2008-2009 economic downturn, when companies cut back and laid off workers.
“Many of those laid off weren’t able to wait it out and didn’t come back into the industry, instead they moved into other fields like truck driving. We lost a lot of good people,” he said.
Since then, things have changed dramatically. Manufacturers are beginning to re-shore, the economy continues to recover and with it, the demand for skilled workers grows everyday.
Krikorian says skilled workers will be in demand always, even as manufacturing becomes more automated.
“When some of my students get concerned that their company is bringing in a robot, I tell them not to be afraid. I tell them ‘That’s fine, let the robots do the pick and place. We’ll do the smart stuff,’” Krikorian said. “We’re the ones that will program them to do the monotonous work.”
That confidence in the future of manufacturing and the willingness to take on technological advances exudes when Krikorian is in front of a class.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe you could do this,” he told a class of adults just beginning their studies at TMA in the end of May. “Don’t be discouraged with all this new information you’re learning. As I always say, we take two steps forward and one step back. We’re moving forward.”
And with any luck and persistence, that class of beginners and many others will be graduating and embarking on new manufacturing careers – “moving forward” with Jack Krikorian cheering them on.
Used by permission. First published in TMA's News Bulletin. Technology & Manufacturing Association