By Dan O'Brien
LOWELL -- A few months ago, it was a temporary bookstore. Now, the 8,500-square-foot room on the ground floor of Falmouth Hall is a makerspace.
Officials from UMass Lowell and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) on Friday morning formally announced a partnership under which university instructors will teach MassMEP's Advanced CNC (computer numerical control) training program. It's a six-week, 280-hour program that prepares candidates -- many of whom are unemployed -- for advanced-manufacturing jobs in the community.
The first 12 students start training in December. Instructor John Mulligan said two additional 12-person classes are set to follow.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney told a crowd of about 50 people that the program is a "vital bridge between government, industry and a pipeline of skilled workers."
"There is a critical shortfall of skilled workers," Moloney said. "Studies have shown that there will be 3.5 million (manufacturing) openings in the next decade, but as many as 2 million could go unfilled.
"We are at an inflection point."
Ted Bauer, director of workforce development strategies at MassMEP, a nonprofit that generates revenue through various federal grants and business partnerships, said a similar program has been in place at his alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, for about five years.
He said he sensed immediate interest upon meeting Joe Hartman, dean of UMass Lowell's Francis College of Engineering, just over two years ago.
"He just seemed very sincere about what our program could do for Lowell, and about what it can do for the skills shortage," Bauer said. "This is a partnership that works if you want to give back to your community, and that's what UMass Lowell is doing."
MassMEP has delivered six Advanced CNC machines to campus. As part of the partnership, UMass Lowell's Francis College of Engineering is providing advanced training in CNC machine operation (MassMEP has delivered six such CNC machines to campus), as well as a location for the program within the university's new makerspace, which features a range of resources, such as workstations for machining and electronics, 3D printers and walls that are entirely whiteboard.
Without disclosing figures, Hartman acknowledged the partnership is a "significant investment" by the university, but he added that he expected it to more than pay for itself.
"There's a need for talent," he said, referencing the state's well-known skills gap between what manufacturers need and what out-of-work candidates have to offer.
Worcester-based MassMEP is one of 50 organizations -- one in each state -- that are part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which itself is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The partnership was originally announced in July.