WESTFORD -- When doors opened this week at Nashoba Valley Technical High School, a gleaming new Advanced Manufacturing classroom greeted students.
The new facility will help students get good jobs after graduation and ease labor shortages in the state.
A ceremonial opening for the state-of-the-art shop was held last Wednesday with school, district and state officials on hand to cut the ribbon. Faculty, students, alumni and representatives from business and industry were also there to welcome the new program.
In her opening remarks, Nashoba Tech Superintendent Denise Pigeon said the most frequent complaint she hears is about the lack of skilled labor for manufacturing jobs. And School Committee Chairman Al Buckley of Pepperell said the school's new program will mean Nashoba graduates "will be earning a good living" as they help to fill the labor gap.
Students in Nashoba Tech's Advanced Manufacturing program, formerly named Machine Tool Technology, will be working in the field of computer numerically controlled, or CNC, machining, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports has a pay range of $50,000 to $80,000 annually, depending on industry and location. In Massachusetts, the average salary is $54,000 a year, according to SimplyHired.com.
The new program and equipment were made possible by a $500,000 grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Skills Capital Grant program.
State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, said she is "thrilled the state was able to give the grant." She said she has also has heard concerns about the labor shortage in Massachusetts.
"Vocational schools can help fill the gap," she said.
She noted that funding of $45 million for more programs like Nashoba's is in the state's economic-development budget for the coming year.
Donoghue's comments were backed up by state Reps. James Arciero and Sheila Harrington.
"This is an incredibly important program," said Arciero, a Westford Democrat.
By 2020, Arciero said, the state will have 100,000 job openings for people with this educational background.
"Some jobs now are not filled because industry can't find people with these skills," he said.
"It's clear as a bell that we don't have enough people to fill these jobs," said Harrington, a Groton Republican, adding that without programs like the one at Nashoba tech, "we will have to ship jobs out of state."
The school will expand advanced-manufacturing training to include nontraditional students -- for example, veterans and the unemployed -- Pigeon said.
Student Ryan Kincaid of Chelmsford is excited for the school year to begin. He can't quite believe "all the new stuff" in an area that "used to be empty space."
"This is a much-needed change," added alumnus Ryan Doiron, of Littleton. "I would love to come back and get my hands on this."
Another former student, Max St. Hillaire of Westford, called it "a huge change."
"It's really cool, and hopefully students will really be able to grow," he said.
St. Hillaire works for Suburban Machine in Westford.
Ayer student Emmitt Boyd said, "I love this. I've been looking forward to this for a very long time."
And for Wendy Hood, special-education coordinator at Nashoba Tech, the new program is "very positive for students with learning issues."
New equipment made possible by the grant includes a Haas VF-2 CNC milling machine, two Haas VF1 milling machines, one Haas turning machine, three Bridgeport manual milling devices, and three lathes. The grant also covered equipment installation.