America’s Cutting Edge celebrates three years

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America’s Cutting Edge celebrates three years

Department of Defense workforce initiative inspiring young people, kickstarting careers, and addressing critical manufacturing skills gap in the United States

KNOXVILLE, TN (Dec. 7. 2023) – On Dec. 7, 2020, University of Tennessee (UT) professor Tony Schmitz took a bold step in helping revitalize U.S. manufacturing.

That’s the day he launched America’s Cutting Edge’s (ACE) successful online training program.

The goals: Inspire young people about jobs in manufacturing, kickstart careers with machining training and help others further develop their skillsets. The program has grown to certify participants in CNC machining, metrology, composites and cybersecurity.

ACE now celebrates its third anniversary. Its growth has been through the support of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program. The workforce training initiative is managed by the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and combines advanced training tools and techniques from UT and the scientific expertise of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“When I launched this program, I did it in a very organic way,” said Schmitz. “I made a list of all the people I knew in the machine tool industry, and I emailed every one of them individually and said, ‘Hey, could you take a look at this content, see if it’s relevant?’”

From there, the conception of the online machine tool course became a reality – the no-cost course was released to the public. Despite the coronavirus pandemic gripping our world, droves of people – from high school and college engineering students to entrepreneurs and workers deep into machine tool careers – flocked to ACE and provided it a generous tailwind that helped drive the program forward.

Online ACE alums soon thereafter gathered for weeklong in-person bootcamps. Those bootcamps got their start at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, before spreading to partner schools across the U.S.

Lives quickly began to change.

“I was interested in machining as a possible career path,” said Chris Shaffer. “But I wasn’t completely sure because I hadn’t had much hands-on experience. The ACE program was a huge part in helping me determine this is something I wanted to do for a living. I couldn’t find too many other things where I felt that at home.”

“The online course was completely new information for me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, but they walked through the process of machining clearly,” said Neeki Meshkat. “Then the in-person training was the perfect way to give hands-on experience for even a novice like me. They weren’t just machining something in front of you but letting you do it yourself. That makes a huge difference in learning something.”

These are just two of the many success stories coming out of ACE.

As the benefits of ACE became more recognized, the program became more popular.  Coincidentally, ACE online training started on a seven – Dec. 7 – and has now hit other lucky sevens.

“The fact that it’s exceeded 7,000 online participants for the ACE program and 700 in-person participants is wildly satisfying,” said Schmitz. In fact, this week marks 36 months of consecutive growth for the successful program.

Of those 7,000, nearly 6,000 from all 50 states have come from the machine tool course. Metrology is pushing 1,000, with the rest of the numbers coming from a few hundred combined between composites and cybersecurity.

While the growth has been remarkable to witness, Schmitz says there’s still new heights to ascend.

“When I started the program, I stated that my goal was to reach 10,000 online participants, and that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

As ACE looks toward the future, great prospects are on the horizon. More locations and bootcamps are being added. In-person bootcamps are being configured for ACE metrology and composites. Videos in Spanish are being developed.

With all these underway and new ACE partnerships continuing to come online, the impact on United States manufacturing will be immeasurable.

“It is inspiring to see how this program has grown,” said Joannie Harmon, IACMI workforce vice president. “But it’s even more inspiring when you realize these growing numbers represent people – people that are scaling up their abilities and contributing to workforce manufacturing needs in our nation.”

“For many, ACE bootcamps are their first chance to run these machines,” said Adele Ratcliff, director of MCEIP’s Innovation Capability and Modernization (ICAM) office, which supports ACE. “I’m confident that by expanding opportunities to engage in that process, more people in this next generation will be inspired to come into manufacturing and machining.”

“I believe the more people we can expose to this curriculum, the better chance we have of growing the country’s machine tool capabilities from the ground up to what we had several decades ago,” said Schmitz. “I am passionate about seeing the U.S. machine tool industry being at the top of the food chain again.”

Are you ready to join the thousands who have sharpened their skillsets with ACE? See ACE in action by watching the video below, then register online to advance your career now!

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