A new initiative to train workers for one of the northern Nevada's hardest-to-fill job categories may be placing its first graduates by mid-2012.
The in-demand workers: Operators of computer numeric control machine tools, the highly automated systems that dominate many of the region's machine shops.
Despite unemployment rates that have topped 12 percent, manufacturing executives in northern Nevada have said that skilled CNC operators and other machinists are exceptionally difficult to find.
A program modeled on a successful effort in Minnesota seeks to change that.
Spearheaded by the Nevada Manufacturers Association, the new initiative would seek to teach CNC skills to untrained workers and have them ready for jobs within less than six months.
The initiative also is getting support from "Dream It, Do It," a program overseen by the Northern Nevada Development Authority that seeks to show students and their parents the attractive job opportunities available in skilled manufacturing positions.
Ray Bacon, executive director of the association, said 17 employers have signed on so far to provide hands-on training in the program.
Manufacturers aren't obligated to hire the workers who get training in their shops, but most students in the Minnesota program had jobs waiting for them at the company where they completed their internships.
Frank Woodbeck, director of the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, has shown strong support for the program, and the state will provide funding to help employers cover training costs, Bacon said.
Additionally, the state is combing through the records of the 140,000 jobless workers in the state to find candidates for the program.
With the possibility of two classes of 20 to 40 students each year, the program could produce as many 80 newly trained CNC operators annually, Bacon said.
While the Minnesota program prepares workers within 16 weeks, Bacon said the weak educational basics of many graduates of Nevada high schools may dictate a longer program here.
"We're not locked into 16 weeks," he said. "If it takes 20 weeks, that's still a breakneck pace."
Organizers are in talks with Western Nevada College and Truckee Meadows Community College for the classroom portions of the training program.
Students would earn the National Career Readiness Certificate and the National Institute of Metalworking Skills certification.
With that basic education, Bacon said students are prepared to begin building their skills to become full machinists.