The small-firm metalworking industry is routinely characterized by cutthroat competition and fierce privacy. Yet, since the late 1980s, the members of the western Massachusetts chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association have participated in an education, training, and technology diffusion network characterized by a high degree of interfirm cooperation. Hundreds of workers and managers have take part in group training sessions and seminars. The reconstruction of the skill base is central to the MechTech apprenticeship program through which apprentices spend four years in participating firms, exiting the program as licensed machinists, tool and die makers, or moldmakers. In an important break with the typical short-term and firm-specific training approaches of American industry, apprentices rotate among several firms engaged in various aspects of metalworking to receive a comprehensive education. They also join a two-year college program and receive a degree in manufacturing technologies. The costs of the plan, including the college degree, are borne almost entirely by the participating firms. This article describes briefly the evolution of the entire western Massachusetts metalworking training program and in some detail how MechTech functions, concluding with a discussion of the program's implications for policymakers.



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