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Boot camp trains students for technical jobs

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 10. 2017 2:05AM
Graduate Kyle Perras shakes hands with Mark Reeves, a training and development manager for BAE, following the graduation ceremony for Nashua Community College's microelectronics program. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

NASHUA - Kyle Perras was working at Dairy Queen in a Manchester mall when he quit to join a 10-week boot camp to learn microelectronics.

"It was pretty daunting at first," the Bedford twentysomething said last week. "I walked in there with all this high-tech machinery, and I had never seen anything or heard anything about this at all."

Today, he's making $25 an hour working at BAE Systems after graduating last January.

Last Friday, the boot camp graduated its sixth class at Nashua Community College - seven men and three women.

The boot camp acts as a pipeline for BAE Systems and a few other companies to find skilled workers.

BAE Systems is "reaching out to the academic community around us and using that as a way of helping our hiring," said Jeremy Tondreault, vice president of operations in the electronic systems division.

The defense contractor donated $200,000 worth of equipment and was involved in the curriculum development.

Its electronics systems division employs about 5,400 people in southern New Hampshire. Its products include laser-guided rockets and electronic warfare systems for military aircraft.

A dozen students spend 40 hours a week in class for 10 weeks.

"I treat it as a company that they're working at," said Steve Jencks, who teaches the boot camp. "They come in, and it's like they're working for me."

Students learn standards and assembly technique for radio frequency and microwave electronic assemblies, working with parts measured to a thousandth of an inch.

Jencks said 95 percent of the graduates have found jobs. The grads, who have ranked from age 19 to 61, generally earn between $16 and $25 an hour.

Once they graduate from boot camp, "they have a future and they can grow old with the jobs they get from here," he said. "This is a real career path."

BAE hired about 30 graduates as of November and didn't have a figure yet on how many of the latest graduates would get an offer. All students at least receive an interview.

"They're great jobs," Tondreault said. "One of the things about manufacturing for a company like us, it's not necessarily what everybody thinks of from a preconceived perceptions of manufacturing."

Mercury Systems, a defense subprime contractor that employs about 200 in Hudson, has hired one graduate and made a job offer to a new grad.

"They're coming to a job Day 1 with 400 hours of experience," said Alex Badalamenti, director of operations at the Hudson Advanced Microelectronics Center. "It's very helpful to hit the ground running."

"There's no other program like this," said Kevin Beals, vice president and general manager of the RFM group at Mercury Systems. "We're actually trying to build a program like that on the West Coast," where the company also has operations.

Hiring workers is "pretty difficult" because you have very experienced people demanding higher salaries or new graduates bringing no experience, he said.

The company has given kits of materials for students to work on, had its workers visit the classroom and hosted a company tour.

During Friday's graduation ceremony, NCC's Jonathan Mason noted the transformation in the graduates.

"I always say the first week is deer in headlights; no one has any idea," said Mason, the college's corporate, community and continuing education coordinator. "They don't even know how to use a microscope."

And now they can talk the microelectronics lingo that is foreign to most people, he said.

Graduate Jonathan Rivera, 30, of Nashua was unemployed when someone at New Hampshire Employment Security recommended the boot camp.

"It was like a boost for me," he said.

Rivera got a job offer from BAE the day before graduating.

"It makes me very happy and proud of myself," he said.

"It's a good opportunity for him," said his wife, Katherine, who attended Friday's ceremony.

Graduate Brianna Terrizzi, 20, of Nashua, said she was working in retail and restaurant jobs.

"I never knew what I wanted to do," she said, so she enrolled in the program and loved it.

BAE offered her a job last week.

Graduate Devon Malburne, 24, of Hudson, was working as a mechanic in a Manchester auto dealership.

"My career path hit a dead end pretty early," he said.

Malburne, who quit his job to attend the course, said he was accustomed to handling big components and found himself dealing with microtechnology in class.

"It was a little intimidating at first," Malburne said.

The boot camp costs $5,500 with the next class starting Jan. 8.

My Turn, a Manchester nonprofit that helps youth develops skills through education and employment training, has provided financial help to 13 boot camp participants, including two from the latest class.

Executive Director Allison Joseph said some students get help with tuition, car payments and other monthly bills while attending.

Perras, who helps in the boot camps, told graduates they had gained a lot of knowledge about their new field.

"But you are always going to learn more on the (company) floor," he said.

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