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Anoka Technical College Answers the Call for More CNC Service Techs

When a group of Minneapolis-area manufacturers couldn’t find qualified CNC service techs, they took matters into their own hands and helped develop a new two-year degree program at Anoka Technical College. Learn more.
Apr 21, 2022

Imagine a world without your car mechanic. Panic would set in waiting for the inevitable breakdown at a critical moment, or you’d frantically search YouTube for DIY videos.

Right now, CNC fleet operators are like the owners of a brand new electrical vehicle without a mechanic, as there is a startling shortage of technicians capable of servicing their machines. Desperate for CNC technicians, manufacturers in the metro Minneapolis took matters in the own hands.

Leaders from Northwest Machine, an integrated supplier of Mazak CNC machine tools located in Rogers, Minn., contacted nearby Anoka Technical College. Anoka Tech already had a strong CNC machinist program, so Northwest Machine inquired about adding a CNC service tech track. The idea bloomed and a steering committee of eight local manufacturers connected with Jesse Oldenburg, the machine trades instructor at Anoka Tech, to develop a curriculum.

“The committee drove the development of a two-year, 64-credit diploma program with classes in electronics, machining, and service,” Oldenburg says. “After 15 months of planning, the CNC Service Technician Program was approved by Minnesota State and we launched it in August 2020.”

Help Wanted – Now!

Karl Focht, CNC lead maintenance technician for Graco Inc. (Rogers, Minn.) and Gary Hoskins, director of service and engineering at Productivity, Inc. (Plymouth, Minn.) were members of the steering committee. They knew first-hand that it takes a lot of skill to be a productive CNC service tech.

“We need field service engineers out of school that can become productive in less time,” Hoskins says. “We want them to come to us with all the skill sets they need to perform the job quickly because we need the help now.”

“This job requires a person to be electrician, a mechanic, and a competent diagnostic person that can think on their feet, thus supplying the industry with a greatly needed commodity,” Focht says. “We want them to have the ability to program and make parts on CNC machines, possess a good understanding of electrical systems, and the ability to troubleshoot PLCs. The Anoka Tech program has all of this, making it an extremely interesting and career developing course of study.”

Class of 2022

In June 2022, two students will graduate as the first class in the Anoka Tech CNC service tech program. The program is expected to grow sharply once Anoka Tech promotes it more publicly, with an estimated 20 graduates per year.

All current students have paid on-the-job training at local manufacturing companies. Northwest Machine and Productivity each have one first-year Anoka Tech student. Graco has three students in the Anoka Tech service tech program: one first-year student intern and two second-year students working in preventive maintenance who will be hired when they graduate.

These future CNC technicians have a good-paying job waiting and will graduate without a mountain of student debt, which comes as a surprise to too many parents who still assume that a four-year liberal arts degree is always the best option.

“At a job fair a few years ago, parents were shocked at what I was telling them,” Focht says. “They couldn’t believe that their kids could attend a two-year college and hit the ground making nearly $60,000 a year. I mentioned to them that a CNC Maintenance Technician position is probably one of the highest paid jobs in most factories, along with being another option for a postsecondary education.”

Attention Tech Schools

In addition to being a manufacturing business owner, Hoskins is a member of the AMT Global Service Committee, which provides expertise and guidance to enhance manufacturing service resources and skills globally.

“In the Upper Midwest, we have a lot of manufacturers using CNC machine tools, so we need support networks to keep those machines running,” Hoskins says. “We need more schools to offer CNC service tech programs to satisfy industry needs. I estimate we will need 50 to 100 of these individuals per year in the Upper Midwest alone. One school can't do it alone.”

To become involved with the AMT committees that address these needs and others, visit the AMT website. In the meantime, if you need CNC service help, step away from the DIY YouTube videos and contact your local technical college to take the first steps toward a service tech program in your region.

Catherine “Cat” Ross
Director of Education, Smartforce Development
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