New manufacturing apprenticeship center at Three Rivers is celebrated

Groton - Manufacturing company employees, high school and higher education administrators, and elected officials gathered late afternoon Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Three Rivers Community College Manufacturing Apprenticeship Center, located at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School.

The new Grasso Tech building opened in August, and this center was about seven years in the making.

The classes in the 8,500-square-foot MAC are not for Grasso Tech but are for Three Rivers students who are enrolled in the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, a government- and donor-funded program that trains unemployed and underemployed people for manufacturing jobs, mostly at Electric Boat but also at other regional manufacturers. It is run through the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.

Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski said converting the college’s on-site manufacturing space would have been too prohibitive, but the timing of Grasso Tech opening and the memorandum of understanding to use the facility worked out perfectly. 

The center opened for classes on Oct. 14, and the classes offered in the main space are intro to machine operator, intro to sheetmetal, shipfitting and electrical, MAC director Bret Jacobson said. The machine operator class was offered as a class called intro to manufacturing in the old Grasso Tech.

But the other three classes are new, ones that weren’t offered at Grasso Tech before because there wasn’t the space, Jacobson said. The center also allows students in the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative to take classes during the day, from 7:30 a.m. to 1:50 p.m., which they couldn’t before, as spaces were in use by Grasso Tech students.

Jacobson estimates it cost about $1 million to outfit the space with equipment. The main area includes manual and CNC mills and lays; basic sheetmetal, pipefitting, metalworking and electrical equipment; and trainers for hydraulics, pneumatics, electrics and mechanics.

There’s also another space in the MAC for welding and design classes; welding students are currently in the sixth week of a 10-week program.

Jacobson said there are currently 14 people in the intro to machine operator class and 13 in the welding class at Grasso Tech; the other classes haven’t gotten started yet. He manages 36 instructors, and the courses offered vary based on employer need.

“What I particularly like about this is the flexibility this affords us as a state, as a region, and as employers and education advocates,” said Mark Ojakian, president of Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, which includes Three Rivers.

Grasso Tech Principal Patricia Feeney said the new center is a “wonderful opportunity for our students,” if they graduate and decide to do something other than their trade. 

One of the employers who said he has “got great results” as a result of the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative is Collins & Jewell co-owner Chris Jewell, who commented, “As time goes by, we’re going to need to multiply this. We’re going to need to do this more and larger.” 

Jukoski, Jacobson, Ojakian, Feeney, Jewell and EWIB President John Beauregard were among the many attendees for the ribbon-cutting Tuesday, with the ribbon hung in front of a mock-up of a submarine hull that Jacobson said students use to get practice in low-lighted areas with interferences in front of them. The rest of the MAC, though, is very bright.

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