By Nora Shelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
New Century Careers and No Crayon Left Behind seem to operate in two separate areas of the Pittsburgh nonprofit world.
The former is a 20-year-old organization focused on providing tuition-free job training to those who want to work in manufacturing. The latter started in 2011 and collects discarded or unused crayons from restaurants and schools, melts them down into new crayons, and distributes them to shelters, schools and other organizations in Pittsburgh and across the world.
But, with the advent of the two-year pilot project New Century Job Shop in May, New Century Careers was able to help No Crayon Left Behind design, prototype and make a mold that could create five crayons at once. Previously, the nonprofit had been using baking molds. The crayons came out looking like unfrosted cupcakes or flower-shaped cookies.
“I could never have afforded to create a brand new mold,” said No Crayon Left Behind founder Emily Skopov. “We were able to talk it through with them, we made some minor upgrades, and now they’re making several of them for us.”
On a recent Tuesday morning at New Century’s below-street level shop on the South Side, 38-year-old trainee Terry Cousins was at a five-axis milling machine making one of the metal molds for No Crayon Left Behind at an affordable $100 apiece.
The machine, which sits in the front of the shop, quietly grinds metal by following instructions from a coded software. Mr. Cousins said machines like the DMU 50 Eco, which combine IT and manufacturing, are his favorite to work on.
Mr. Cousins has been at New Century Careers for about six months, learning manufacturing skills as part of the nonprofit’s Manufacturing 2000 program. He heard about the program while living in a halfway house, and hopes to soon be employed at a Western Pennsylvania manufacturer.
“Since I’ve been down here, I decided I love it,” he said.
Mr. Cousins was one of about a dozen trainees working on independent projects at the training center last week. The group included a former real estate agent who had decided to try his hand at manufacturing and a 21-year-old who had to drop out of a four-year business school because of financial reasons.
The trainees come in five days of week for a full day, which includes classroom work and practice projects on manual machines, said New Century’s president and CEO Paul Anselmo. There also is a night program that meets two days a week. Eventually, trainees are able to try their hand on the more advanced machines that incorporate coded software, like the one Mr. Cousins was using.
Since the program began in the late 1990s, the trainees who come through New Century’s program work on projects that help them build an understanding of the fundamentals of manufacturing.
There are three phases of the program, which add up to about 600 hours of training and handle increasingly complex and difficult manufacturing tasks, Mr. Anselmo said. Those who don’t find jobs before they get far into training can take credential tests under the National Institute for Metalworking Skills guidelines.
All told, trainees are able to get experience on saws, pedestal and surface grinders, drill presses, lathes, vertical milling machines and CNC machines, which follow coded instructions. About 30 to 40 come through the program every year, Mr. Anselmo said.
A profitable training ground?
With the creation of the New Century Job Shop, which also is based out of the training center on the South Side, trainees will have the opportunity to get experience making real-world prototypes or small batches of parts, Mr. Anselmo said, as part of an unofficial fourth phase.
To get ready for the more professional jobs they expect to come through, New Century received two donated mills that are a hybrid between manual and CNC machines. Mr. Anselmo said the program also purchased a hybrid lathe for about $40,000, upgraded another machine and acquired the five-axis Mori DMU50E from another manufacturer.
The hybrid machines, Mr. Anselmo said, are “ideal’ in helping move trainees from the manual to CNC machining.
The mission of the job shop is threefold. First, Mr. Anselmo is hoping the shop will eventually turn a profit that can be funnelled back into New Century’s $1.2 million budget, which offers a tuition-free training program. He said they expect the job shop to turn in about $100,000 in profit after the two-year pilot is over.
The second goal is supporting local start-ups and small manufacturers in making small batches of parts and prototypes.
Lastly, Mr. Anselmo said the job shop will give trainees invaluable resume-building experience.
“It’s not just getting them from unemployment to some kind of a job, but from unemployment to a career that can sustain them for life,” he said.
‘It’s a career’
Mr. Anselmo, who used to work at a high school placing students in internships and jobs, and Neil Ashbaugh, who came to New Century after more than two decades working in manufacturing, know well the value of job training.
After getting a four-year degree and spending a few years working in radio, Mr. Ashbaugh started an apprenticeship in a precision tool and die manufacturing shop in 1993. The move launched a 23-year career in the manufacturing industry.
“I really didn’t fully understand or appreciate what I was learning. I knew there was an end goal, that it was a job, but then I soon realized that … it’s a career,” he said. “Once you learn how to make something, then you have the opportunity to sell it, market it, engineer it, design it, develop it.”
Mr. Ashbaugh, who joined New Century in 2016 as the director of services, said when he was getting his career started, companies were flooded with applicants for just a few positions. Now, he said, companies often have multiple job openings and only a few candidates.
“The amount of crazy things that people are making in Western Pennsylvania, that to me is kind of fun, because you never know what you’re going to make,” he said.
Mr. Ashbaugh and Mr. Anselmo are hoping the job shop will not only add value to their well-established training program, but also help startups and small manufacturers in the area get on their feet.
Afshan Khan, who was on the committee that started the job shop, said having a local manufacturer who can make small batches of parts and prototypes will be helpful. Ms. Khan is an executive-in-residence at Innovation Works, a North Side-based nonprofit focused on supporting startups and entrepreneurs.
Mr. Anselmo said entrepreneurs who need a prototype can always go online to find a shop that will be able to make and ship back a product in a few weeks. The value of having the job shop in Pittsburgh, Ms. Khan said, is that New Century can sit down with the startups.
This may help them get a better prototype, as Mr. Ashbaugh and New Century’s shop foreman will be able to help work through any ambiguities in the design, but Ms. Khan said it also will help the entrepreneurs understand their product better.
“They need to understand how to take something from an engineering and design stage to actually manufacturing something,” she said.
Mr. Anselmo believes the shop will provide an essential boost in job interviews for New Century trainees who may face an “additional barrier” to finding work, such as a criminal record or history of drug use.
Beyond working with new companies, he said New Century will also be partnering with local manufacturing firms to make small batches of parts. His hope is that those local manufacturers may look to hire New Century trainees.
Mr. Anselmo also hopes being able to produce real-world products, rather than just practice projects, will help improve trainees’ feeling of self-worth.
“Can you imagine never having the experience of success of any kind?” he said. “There are people that we see … in the first time in their life they’re feeling successful.”
Based in Pittsburgh, Catalyst Connection is an economic development organization dedicated to helping small manufacturers to improve their competitive performance. Catalyst advisors, consultants, and instructors offer training, consulting and administer financial programs that can provide funding for equipment, machinery, or capital improvements. As a nonprofit 501 (c)3 firm, the organization has been supporting Southwestern Pennsylvania manufacturers for more than 25 years. For more information call 1-888-887-7472 or go to www.catalystconnection.org.