Preparing the Next Generation of Manufacturing Professionals

The manufacturing industry has long sounded the alarm about the “The Grey Tsunami” that is sweeping away skilled, experienced, and valuable manufacturing professionals. The question is – where will the next generation of manufacturers come from and how will they be trained?

One answer – TMA, which is dedicated to helping small and midsized manufacturers be successful. One of the ways we do this is through our industry-led training.

In the wake of COVID-19 government shutdowns and subsequent supply chain crisis, legislators and the general population came to understand that domestic manufacturing equals national security. The increased demand on U.S. manufacturing also required additional personnel, which further exacerbated the decades-long skills gap.

Enter TMA, who renewed its long-time efforts to assist members in finding, securing, and retaining qualified employees by:

1. Encouraging younger people to consider manufacturing careers.

2. Providing advanced skill training for those already in the industry.

Jack Krikorian, TMA’s Senior Director of Training & Education, has been focused on designing and updating TMA’s program curriculum for the past 11 years, despite the industry’s ups and downs.

“TMA is unique in that it offers training for member employees,” Krikorian, a skilled mold-maker himself, said. “There are many associations, but none offer the face-to-face training we do.”

A growing number of TMA members take advantage of TMA’s programs to offer training for mold makers, tool & die makers, and CNC programmers. Students’ employers often fund their employees’ coursework. Most TMA students accumulate much of their hands-on experience hours required by the US Department of Labor under their employers’ direction.

Krikorian oversees the array of part-time instructors TMA provides for technical classes.

“Our biggest challenge these days is keeping ahead of the technology and offering courses that our TMA members tell us they need,” Krikorian said. “We’re always gathering information and making the needed changes to move ahead.”

“Interest in advanced skills is multiplying once again,” he said.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, our January 2024 classes are full and we have a waiting list.”

Nayhelly Caldera coordinates the logistics for TMA’s apprenticeship program. For the last five years, she has worked directly with TMA students to help them find their needed courses, coordinate their schedules, and assist them toward success. She finds the diversity among TMA students fascinating.

“I’ve had students that come in for the entrance exam in their 40s, and it’s really refreshing. It’s never too late to learn,” she said. “I could have an 18- or 19-year-old testing, doing practice exams, and a 40-year-old taking the same exam. It’s great to see that.”

“It’s common for students to return to TMA training to learn another facet of manufacturing skills,” Caldera said. This past May, TMA celebrated 52 apprentice graduates in the major pathways of mold making, tool & die making, and CNC programming.

Leigh McConnell, TMA’s Director of Training & Education, is focused these days on developing TMA projects that interest younger ages.

One major project is working with area high school instructors toward participation in TMA’s annual Precision Machining Competition. The program includes the following:

• Informinghighschoolinstructorsofthequalifyingprojectsfor their students.

• Enlisting volunteer judges when the projects come in.

• Organizing and setting up, and leading the annual PMC presentation.

To encourage more interest during the high school years, McConnell directs TMA’s Education Foundation, which raises private funds to provide grants to high school vocational programs.

In addition, McConnell works directly with TMA members to help them obtain state and federal funding as grants become available for training and onboarding new employees. She coordinates TMA’s new Manufacturing Leadership Program with Judson University and looks for other ways to market manufacturing careers to the next generation.

How McConnell sees TMA’s Training & Education’s future boils down to one keyword: expansion.

“We’re going to expand here and offer to help more people in their apprenticeships than what we’re doing right now. We’re looking to reach more people with MLP and possibly expand beyond this building,” she said. “We plan to do everything we’re doing, plus more, and then expand to help our members find people too.”

For more information on the training and education TMA offers, see 

From TMA News Bulletin, June/July 2023 – By TMA News Bulletin editor, Fran Eaton

Jack Krikorian, Nayhelly Caldera, Keynote Speaker