ROCHESTER — The future of high-tech manufacturing has already sparked international interest and provides hope for area residents.
After six months of hard work, 16 members of the first Advanced Composites Manufacturing program graduated from at Great Bay Community College's Advanced Technology & Academic Center (ATAC) Wednesday night.
By the start of the new year, many of the graduates will already have jobs in the aerospace industry or have the skills in demand among other manufacturers, especially at Albany Engineered Composites (AEC) and Safran Aerospace Composites (SAC), which built a new 343,712 square-foot plant in the Granite State Business Park near Skyhaven Airport this year. By 2018, the company will need a 500 highly skilled workers at the facility which produces materials for the aerospace industry.
This provides Great Bay, which is based in Portsmouth, with an opportunity to help train the necessary workforce to meet expanding manufacturing needs, according to Bruce Barker, vice president of enrollment for the college.
Barker said Great Bay used a slice of a $20 million federal grant to create ATAC as part of the statewide Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in Education initiative, formed by the Community College System of New Hampshire.
Will Arvelo, president of Great Bay, said this wouldn't be possibly without the partnership between the college, Albany, Safran and officials at the city and state levels or the students in the first class.
"You are the first of many (good things) to come," Arvelo said, adding he encourages students to bring back what they learn in the workforce.
After working for the past 30 years, Lino D'Andreti, 55, of Exeter, said returning to the classroom was a big change, especially with his children — who made sure he did his homework, didn't watch too much TV and got to class on time.
D'Andreti, who had been unemployed for a sales position in the electronics industry for more than a year, said he decided to enroll in the program after spotting a flier.
"I was always driven to learn new things," D'Andreti said, adding age is no obstacle to initiative.
D'Andreti said he also received a great deal of support from fellow classmates, who ranged in age from 19 to 59 when the class began. He added they supported each other.
"It's all in the mindset," D'Andreti said, adding the hard work paid off.
D'Andreti said he's excited to start working as a composites inspector — the field he focused on for the past eight weeks — at the new Safran plant in Rochester on Jan. 6.
Fellow graduate, Evan Doyon, 20, of Durham, who previously worked at Coyote Creek in Rochester, is also excited to begin at Safran next year as a computer numerical control (CNC) operator.
Doyon said the program, which required balance and motivation for the past six months, was challenging for all.
"It got me where I needed to be," Doyon said.
Haley Corliss, 29, of Somersworth, said the program allows her to be optimistic even though she has not secured a job yet. She said she hopes to put her skills to use as a paint operator.
"I want a career, not just a job," Corliss said, adding she previously worked in a variety of positions before being laid off, which encouraged her to enroll in the Advanced Composites Manufacturing program.
Bret Blanchard, who was one of the instructors of the Advanced Composites Manufacturing program, said the first class "set the bar pretty high," helped shape future sessions and provided hope to fellow students.
"That's the best part of what I do — seeing people change their lives," Blanchard said.
For those interested in learning more about the Advanced Composites Manufacturing program an open house is scheduled for Jan. 16 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at ATAC, located at 5 Milton Road (Route 12), Unit 32 at the Lilac Mall. For information, visit www.greatbay.edu.