NTMA: A Twist on Trade Skill Training

In one of my previous blogs on CNC machining, I addressed some points on how this industrial skill has begun to transform with the adoption of computers and digitization. Part of the mission with Making Made Simple is to organically promote various institutions that give people hands on training for these high demand, skilled trade jobs. For over 50 years now, NTMA Training Centers has built up a tremendous reputation in their ability to apply evolving technology to the industrial classroom, preparing their students for careers in machining.

Clean floors, interactive shop classes, CAD programming, and optical workshops are a few thoughts that came to mind as I toured their training facility in Santa Fe Springs, CA. There’s a particular type of sensation one gets when they are able to imagine something, model it in SolidWorks, write a CAM program, and produce that part on a CNC milling/turning machine. This was a common theme I registered when talking with some of the students during my visit to NTMA back in March.

NTMA Student Jared checking over his G Code program before he's ready to make some chips

This nonprofit’s primary vision is to teach and inspire machinists of the future through their unique curriculum. “We really cater to the individual that doesn’t want to learn with traditional pen and paper. Our staff excels at applying tangible shop experience to the classes we offer,” says Norma Executive Director of ETP & FA. Anything from CNC, G-Code programming, to metallurgy, jigs & fixtures, and so much more…it’s all here at NTMA. Most of the staff at the facility have had hands-on experience working in machine shops and factory floors of industries far and wide. I also saw a strong presence of 3D Printing in the NTMA curriculum for CAD and practical, industrial design.

This Southern California educational group also believes they deliver exceptional attention when compared to for-profit institutions such as community college. “The instructors here really believe in this place, they feel they are addressing a neglected skill and take pride in arming their students with knowledge to succeed in the workforce” says Norma. “We average about 10 students per instructor, and feel the students really benefit from the mix of classroom and machine shop courses interwoven.”

An instructor helping his student run a tapping cycle on this Haas CNC Bed Mill

In just 7 short months, NTMA is able to take a novice machinist and get them trained for the workforce through grinding, drilling, CNC/conventional machining, MasterCAM, blueprint reading, GD&T, and various other courses. They first start on the manual Bridgeport style mills, band saws, drill presses, and engine lathes, familiarizing them with speeds, feeds and other basic machining principles. From there, various CAD and CAM courses are implemented where the students learn how to make 3D models and then program the machine to perform various operations.

Vince looks on his part as it's cycled through milling operations on a CNC Machining Center

Once they have a feel for the programming side of things, they are moved up to the full CNC milling and turning equipment to cut the part. In addition, there are several post processing/inspection programs woven into the machinist program. Most of the curriculum is developed around making parts, increasing the complexity throughout the entirety of the program. Students will learn basic manual 3 axis milling, and then slowly work their way up to more intricate, 4 & 5 axis machines with the integration of automation and computer programming. The school also offers Advanced Training classes for engineers/industrial workers that want to know more about the subject of machining.

A look inside the metrology/post processing lab

Aside from the training it takes to become a machinist, there is also a fair amount of leg work needed to get their students prepped to enter the workforce. Inclusive of tuition, a student receives: interview attire, certificates, and even a toolbox to showcase the student’s work. Being that NTMA has been in the industry for a considerable amount of time, a large asset to their disposal is the amount of long standing partnerships they've developed in their years of operation. “Since we are so close to these manufacturers, we often reach out to them to understand the skills they are in need of,” says Marcie Director of Advanced Programs. “With shorter class semesters, we can change and implement our program to fit the needs of industry professionals seeking young, talented work.” Throughout a student’s time at NTMA, they are also invited to the various networking and job placement events put on by the school.

Manual engine lathes and Bridgeport mills are where most students start out on, after having a few GD&T classes under their belt

There is definitely an inherent level of pride and accomplishment that comes from the graduates of this unique institution. “Most of our enrollment comes from word of mouth referrals from past students, and even manufacturers in the area,” Executive Director of Acct. & HR Carey Knutson proclaims. “The students really see the real-world application behind the work they are doing and appreciate the placement help we give them.” If you can’t find them on YouTube or their facility site, you can also find the NTMA team at local high schools and career fairs promoting their services. “We believe in manufacturing as a career path for anyone, but we still have a huge battle to educate the public in all the opportunities that are available to them,” says Carey.

With college tuition costs at all-time highs with seemingly no cap in sight, young students face a risk/reward evaluation for career options post-high school. Vocational schools are arguably a much lower barrier to entry on all levels when compared to a typical 4-year degree. With vo-tech’s, there is often little to no pre-requisites required to jump into a particular major, shortening the overall time to completion. NTMA is just one of the thousands of technical institutes out there that offers tangible skills that are highly needed in today’s automated, digital world. If you are a young grade/high school student, I implore you to read up on the amazing career paths that you can find in any number of industrial roles. For anyone that is interested in learning more about skilled trades and where to start looking, I am happy to talk with you!


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