In honor of Manufacturing Week, the Economic Development team met up with Stan Hitchcock to discuss his leadership in the industry. Hitchcock has served as a professor and the Program Coordinator of Machine Tool Technology at Napa Valley College since 2016.
How did you find your way to this profession?
I was one of those kids who finished high school with no clue what I wanted to do. After graduation, I landed a summer job in the machine shop at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The work really piqued my interest. Pursuing this career led me to enlist in the US Navy as a machinery repairman, where I apprenticed as a machinist. After this, I held various journey-level jobs at Kaiser Steel and Mare Island while I was pursuing a college education on the GI Bill. After finishing college, I went on to work various white collar jobs while never really forgetting my time on the tools. In the mid 2000s, I landed a teaching job at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, where I really caught the teaching bug. I ended up teaching Machine Shop and other engineering classes there and really enjoyed it. When the opportunity came up for this position at Napa Valley College, I applied – and I’ve been here since 2016, and I love every minute of it.
Tell us about your program.
The Machine Tool Technology curriculum is a two-year, four-semester program. Students enroll with various levels of experience, or none at all, and leave “job-ready.” There are about 15 students per cohort who go through the program together. Our students learn to do precision measurement, work with hand tools, perform manual machining techniques on engine lathes, milling machines, and precision grinding. They go on to learn to work with computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, doing programming, prototyping and finish-machining work, which gives them an even broader skill set.
Something special about our location in Napa is real-world application! At times, community members will contact me asking for assistance with a project. Some time ago, for example, we had the opportunity to help solve a problem for a gentleman from a vineyard management company, helping him build a mount for a sensor to detect ambient airborne moisture content. Seeing my students take what they had learned and use it to help him was beyond rewarding.
What kind of careers do you see your students moving into?
Graduates of our program are sought after by local oil refineries, machine shops, manufacturing companies and wineries because employers know that our graduates come with a solid skill set in machine tool technology and a mechanical aptitude, enabling them to work in most any environment or platform. This gives them an edge. I tell my students that if one learns and grows in this trade, one can make a living wage and be able to live comfortably in the greater Bay Area.
What is the future of manufacturing?
There’s never been a better time to get into this trade. With China’s workforce changing and the cost of shipping goods on the increase, manufacturing is coming back to the U.S. The Boomer generation is retiring at a rapid rate, and employers are on the hunt for skilled workers to fill these vacancies. California community colleges are “tooling-up” to meet the challenges of training a new generation, and – I may be biased – I feel it’s the best training value for the money one can receive in the state. However, more needs to be done to attract people toward careers in the skilled trades. I realize that the nature of work itself is changing, especially since the COVID pandemic hit. However, our new workforce has to be flexible and willing to take on a variety of tasks to meet the changing demands of the workplace. Bottom line: we need to attract more people into the skilled trades, and you can learn it here!
To learn more about Machine Tool Technology program, visit Napa Valley College’s site.