Darlene Dunn has been surrounded by machines her entire Pratt & Whitney career. But until now, the former materials handler has never actually controlled one.
"I never thought much about machines – period. When I'd go by them, they looked very scary, very intimidating. All the buttons, and dials and gauges and everything, it's really overwhelming," Dunn said.
Overwhelming until she and other Connecticut operations co-workers fell under the tutelage of Asnuntuck Community College instructors, teaching the foundations of becoming a professional machinist.
"Running a machine itself is the coolest thing, and seeing your product when you're finished. You grind down a tool at a certain degree or angle, that's very neat when you see your product in your hands when you are finished," Dunn said.
The re-training effort stems from a partnership between the union and the company. Employees are immersed in a seven-week intensive course that involves both class and shop time. A foundation is first built about the basics of machining. The class then progresses into advanced manufacturing methods coupled with new technology. Success is a guarantee Asnuntuck has stood by for 18 years.
"I can say very, very openly and honestly when I told someone when he or she was going to get this kind of capability, given his or her determination, we were true to our promise," said Frank Gulluni, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center at Asnuntuck.
Jose Marcelino, an instructor at Asnuntuck, said the skills aquired in this seven week course can last a lifetime.
"It's a new experience for everybody here. We're here to make you succeed, not just hold you back. We're here to train you, put you back to work, in seven weeks. We have fun while we're doing it. They're learning something new, you can ask all of them, none of them have done this before, it's a new thing that they can take with them anywhere and beyond," Marcelino said.
One class of former material handlers has already graduated and is on the shop floor.
For Darlene Dunn, when she officially gets back to work, being surrounded by machines won't feel so unfamiliar anymore. Instead, she'll skillfully run them with confidence.
"I was scared to death two weeks ago. Now I'm pretty comfortable, I'm pretty comfortable with it. I know I'm going to succeed," Dunn said.