With hundreds of manufacturing and machinist jobs in Lynchburg, machining skills are valuable asset for job seekers. HireLynchburg has partnered with Non-Traditional Occupations for Women (N.O.W.) and Vector Space to launch an innovative Women in Machining program.
What is it?
Women in Machining is a 12 week program funded by the City of Lynchburg’s HireLynchburg workforce initiative, in partnership with N.O.W. and Vector Space. N.O.W. is a local organization that provides mentorship, training and wraparound supports (including childcare and transportation) for women who are interested in pursuing a new or different career, specifically in fields where women are in the minority. Vector Space is a makerspace – a space where individuals can use tools, materials and education to create anything from an apron to a robot. Together these organizations have partnered with the HireLynchburg workforce initiative, which exists to support talent and in-demand skill development for Lynchburg industries through partnerships with local agencies and the business community. These 3 partners provide mentorship and supports to 5 women who learn how to not only utilize machining tools, but actually make products. At the end of the 12 weeks, the students are able to visit local employers to tour their machine shops, ask questions, and possibly interview for apprenticeships or open positions.
How Did it start?
The pilot program was first pitched in 2019 as part of a Small Business Administration competitive grant program. When the grant was awarded elsewhere, Vector Space co-owners and operators, Adam and Elise Sponterelli, were left with a great program model but no funding. Working in conjunction with the HireLynchburg program, they were able to tweak the model to fit the City’s workforce initiatives, specifically targeted at underserved populations. In the Blueprint for Opportunity, the Office of Economic Development & Tourism’s 5 year strategic plan, HireLynchburg was launched as Goal 3: Talent Development. With the sudden arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blueprint was given a reset in 2020. HireLynchburg now resides as part of the City’s workforce goals to help drive long-term economic growth and resilience.
Lynchburg is the hub of manufacturing for the region, but historically has low numbers of women in the field. Shift work, cultural expectations and lack of access to resources are all hurdles that local women face when wanting to pursue a career in machining and manufacturing. The Women in Machining program takes two of the most utilized tools in machining – the lathe and brake press – and teaches the students how to use these. Far from a quick tutorial, the program walks the women through the process of designing and making an actual product from start to finish, incorporating math, critical thinking, time management and hands on practice.
Because of the non-traditional approach of the program, the women are free to learn, fail and grow in their skillset in a low-risk environment. The freedom to explore, ask questions and try new things allows them to immerse themselves and learn at a faster pace than a traditional job training environment. The small class size in conjunction with the weekly mentoring opportunities provides the instructors the time to truly invest in the students and help nurture a full understanding of the process.
The pilot program of Women in Machining started about a week before the pandemic hit. With strict adherence to safety precautions, it was able to continue, however, the critical piece of touring and interviewing with employers was not able to take place due to stay at home orders. In 2021, the class has been able to safely meet in person throughout the course and will be touring a number of local manufacturing and machining facilities. Each employer has been able to provide incredible value to the class, from letting the students get a taste of a ‘real-world’ machining environment to interviewing them for open positions at the end of the program. The goal of the program is provide each participant with the skills, resources and experience needed to take the next steps in their career, and to take with them the transferrable skills, knowledge and training in whatever path they choose.