Rise of the machines

Allen Community College and area industries are joining forces to offer a CNC operator certification program. B&W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt is providing classroom space and equipment for the classes, which start this fall. High school students can take the CTE course at no cost.


Local News

May 17, 2024 - 2:31 PM

Angela Hobbs operates a CNC machine at B&W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt. She’s worked for B&W for five years and said she enjoys watching how the machine cuts parts using computer codes. B&W is partnering with Allen Community College for a new CNC Machining and Manufacturing certification program this fall. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

HUMBOLDT — It’s not easy to find employees who understand how to operate a CNC machine.

The machines — CNC stands for “computer numerical control” — use pre-programmed computer software to control precise tools in the manufacture of metal or plastic parts. CNC operators are among the most in-demand positions at area industries.

“We don’t find many experienced operators. We’re training them from the ground up,” Beth Barlow, general manager with B&W Trailer Hitches, said.

B&W has 115 CNC machines and about 85 operators spread over its various shifts, with about 22 job openings. Starting wages range from $16 to $18 per hour, depending on the shift. Someone who has certification will earn another $2 per hour.

To help fill the need and provide career training for high school students, Allen Community College is partnering with B&W and Parsons-based Tank Connections to offer a new certification course in CNC Machining and Manufacturing. The course starts this fall and will be located at B&W’s plant in Humboldt.

Lisa Wicoff is the dean of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and industry partnerships for Allen. 

“We know students coming out of high school want to grow their opportunities. They need training for a rewarding career,” Wicoff said. “This partnership can help people stay local and hopefully bring others into the area to fill jobs.”

Randy Misenhelter will teach a new CNC Machining and Manufacturing course at B&W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt, under a partnership with Allen Community College. Here, he demonstrates how a CNC simulator works.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Randy Misenhelter will teach the course. He’s an Iola native with an extensive background in machining and manufacturing, including as a manager for area industries such as Tramec, Precision International and Superior Products. He also owned a machining business. 

“In the beginning, they took an old manual machine and hooked a computer to it. The technology has advanced so far, it’s getting hard to keep up,” Misenhelter said. “Now you have lasers, plasma cutters, water jets. You even have robotic welding.”

Area high school students can sign up for the course like any other CTE program. It will be offered at no charge to high school students. ACC also has pledged scholarships for those who pursue a certificate. Students will earn a 17-hour certificate over the course of two semesters. Adults can take the courses if space is available.

Class size will be limited to 20 but, depending on demand, multiple classes could be scheduled. 

B&W is renovating a former break area into classroom and shop space, and providing the training equipment. Students will learn using a simulator and will work on actual CNC machines called mills and lathes. 

Even if students choose not to work as a CNC operator, they’ll still learn skills that will be useful in the manufacturing industry, Wicoff said. 

“Employers say the No. 1 thing they need are soft skills. They need employees who show up on time and get along well with others. That’s also a big part of our program.”

Classes include an OSHA safety course, workplace ethics, print reading and introduction to computer aided design. Tank Connection will provide the OSHA training. 

“They can come out of high school with a certificate, owe nothing for it, and then have a good career,” Wicoff said.