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New local program offered to women wanting to learn machinery skills

New local program offered to women wanting to learn machinery skills

Only $5 for 5 months

In an effort to help women develop machinery skills so they potentially can work at higher-paying jobs, local organizations have come together to provide a free 12-week course to five women so they can better sustain themselves while breaking the glass ceiling.

Tony Davis, program director at Jubilee Family Development Center, said he helped kick-start the program because of his focus to help women rise out of poverty in the city and get them into sustainable working fields.

“We hope this program improves lifestyles, health, outlook and quality of life,” he said.

The N.O.W. Machinist Program, short for Nontraditional Occupations for Women, started Jan. 21 and is a collaborative effort to give five women machinist skills using a manual milling machine and a manual lathe.

The Nontraditional Occupations for Women, Inc. 501©(3) was started to give women entry-level skills into the electrical field and machinist industry.

Davis began talking to Adam Spontarelli with Vector Space and Mike Booker with Belvac Production Machinery about starting a machinist program for women that would teach fundamental skills.

“We’re always trying to partner with people to keep people out of poverty into sustainable jobs,” Davis said. “We started looking at how we [can] help women get out of low-paying jobs and into better-paying jobs.”

Spontarelli pitched the idea to the city, which ended up granting the program $20,000 for its first year. The money covers materials and pays for both Spontarelli and Booker, who instruct the 12-week course.

The five women meet two nights a week at Vector Space and one night a week at Jubilee Family Development Center for a SkillsUSA Career Essentials certification, which is provided by Lynchburg City School’s Adult Learning Center on Polk Street.

Davis said once completed, the program will equip the women with entry-level machinist skills, a focus on inclusivity in the workplace, innovation in the field and soft skills for job retention. Following the program each participant will interview with local companies for employment opportunities.

Partnering companies include Automated Industrial Technologies, Porter’s Fabrication and Southern Air.

Davis’ goal for the group is to eliminate complications such as needing child care and transportation, which are provided by Jubilee during the 12 weeks.

Spontarelli said Vector Space, a maker space that offers classes and workshops to its members, always is looking to have a positive effect on the community and one way of doing that is to create equal opportunities for people to learn new skills.

He said machinery and manufacturing jobs do not require great strength and even if they did, there still are plenty of women who can do the work.

“It’s a result of history and societal norms, and the machine industry loses out because of it, and women lose out of these opportunities,” he said of why so few women are in such jobs.

After the women have completed the program, they are offered a six-month membership to Vector Space to continue learning new tools and machines as well as working on their own projects.

“There is a whole network of people at Vector Space who are familiar with making things and it is space where they can come and practice what they’re learning and use other tools. It’s a resource for them to thrive and grow their knowledge,” he said.

At Vector Space, the women have used the machines available to make jewelry, salt and pepper shakers and soon will make rolling pins.

“All these projects give them the basic skills they need to be successful,” Davis said. “They are learning foundational-level skills. You can’t go to work on certain machines until you know how to use some of these foundational machines.”

Angela Davis, a participant in the program, said she has learned how to use a milling machine and a lathe so far and has enjoyed making her own jewelry.

She even signed up for the city’s CoStarters program, which lasts nine weeks and equips aspiring entrepreneurs with tools to turn business ideas into a reality.

“For me, it’s a creative release,” she said. “I didn’t know how to use machinery or how all this would come together. I found I really enjoyed using the machine to make the jewelry and started making other items, and doors started opening, and I thought maybe this could become a reality. I’m just trying to see where this could lead me for a side hustle.”

She said the program is important for women because it gives them an opportunity that traditionally men might only be offered or presented with.

“Everyone in this group is making progress and it’s an opportunity for women to broaden their opportunities for creativity and employment,” she said. “There is no limit to what we as a group or individually can do.”

Once the program has ended, Davis said he will evaluate what worked and hopes to offer it more frequently.

“We want to keep it at a limited class size so we can pour into individuals who have no knowledge of these terms and machinery,” he said. “Everything is new to them. Each lady in the group has a different level of education and they all come from different backgrounds but each has a desire to finish the program.”

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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