One of the largest community colleges in the nation, Houston Community College (HCC) serves over 70,000 students per semester at 19 locations in and around Houston, Texas. There are fourteen HCC Centers of Excellence that align directly with business and industry employment needs in southeast Texas. The HCC Material Science and Smart Manufacturing Center of Excellence administers its American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Expanding Community College Apprenticeships (ECCA) grant which has allowed the college to expand its registered apprenticeship program in the growing area of Machining Technology.
HCC registered apprentices in Machining Technology complete 576 hours of training and 8,000 hours of OJT. Apprentices progress through a sequence of courses that yield two manufacturing and machining certificate levels as well as an Associates of Applied Science (AAS) degree. The two-year AAS program in Machining Technology is designed to meet the industry’s increasing need for trained machine operators and programmers in occupations such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools, autoloaders, high-speed machining, and ‘lights-out’ manufacturing including setup, monitoring, and maintenance of machines that operate autonomously.
HCC Machining Technology courses are intentionally broad so that students have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills to apply to the many different machining and manufacturing tools. As a part of the Machining Technology program, the HCC Computer Operator Certificate offers apprenticeship students extensive hands-on, foundational knowledge, modern techniques and technical skills needed for a successful career in machining. Students learn lathe operations, milling, basic machine tool set up, and CNC programming. Courses in the program consist of Fundamentals of CNC Machine Controls, Operation of CNC Turning Centers, and Operation of CNC Machine Centers.
The Machining Technology program also offers a CNC Fast Track Certificate designed to prepare students for careers in manufacturing industries as CNC programmer machinists. The course trains students to understand blueprint reading and the use of computer-aided manufacturing (CADCAM) software to create part programs. Courses in the CNC Fast Track program consist of Introduction to SolidWorks, Introduction to Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), and Advanced Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM). After completion, students may elect to go on to further their career in HCC Machining and Manufacturing degree programs.
One innovative Machining Technology apprenticeship program under development at HCC is the 3D printer specialization. This focus allows students to gain experience with both types of 3D printers, plastic, and metal. Students learn to develop ‘global coordinating codes’ which are used to program 3D printers for the development of computer parts or other components needed in high-tech manufacturing. HCC training in this area uses state-of-the-art 3D printer simulators which allow students to experiment and practice with the coding and programming process before working on the job with 3D printers.
The HCC Machining Technology program accepts students into the training who are already employed by manufacturers and wish to become registered apprentices. The program also establishes registered apprenticeship opportunities with employers for students already enrolled in Machining Technology. Apprenticeship students have full access to the many support services offered at HCC and apprenticeships are closely monitored by Machining Technology faculty to address issues or needs that arise in the workplace.
Leadership at HCC is fully committed to meeting student needs related to employment and career advancement as well as addressing the community’s needs for skilled workers and economic growth. According to Alberto Urbina, the Dean of Material Science and Smart Manufacturing, “Houston Community College is committed to student success and community engagement. Our Machining Technology registered apprenticeship program provides one of the best pathways for students to receive rigorous and relevant skills training that employers in Southeast Texas are needing in their industry.”