The San Francisco Bay Area is most notably synonymous with Silicon Valley, tech, and innovation. It also has one of the highest levels of income disparities in the United States. Top-earning families in the Bay Area bring in more than 12 times as much income as those families at the bottom.
“In San Francisco, entire communities of people do not have access to the skills and networks needed to participate and thrive in the economy,” says Ryan Spurlock, founder and executive director of Humanmade, a nonprofit manufacturing training center that is bringing together the industry, the city, and community to help solve the employment and wage gaps.
“The mission is to eliminate the traditional barriers – like financial resources or formal education – that individuals often face when trying to gain entry into the manufacturing technology sector,” he adds.
Spurlock describes Humanmade as an advanced training center, youth career exposure program, and “makerspace” – a community-based open-access do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studio that can provide people access to industry-level equipment and software.
All of the organization’s programs are created to increase familiarity with design thinking, advanced fabrication technologies, and diverse career pathways and opportunities associated with manufacturing, engineering, and design.
Humanmade stepped in after a nationally-known makerspace model Techshop closed its three locations in the Bay area. Spurlock says the mission from inception has been to create a diverse and equitable manufacturing ecosystem.
“(One) where companies can sustainably scale their own businesses and then come back for continued training and trusted hiring opportunities, consequently helping to provide new career opportunities for workforce development graduates,” he explains.
Advanced Manufacturing Workers Wanted
California is the nation’s largest manufacturing state with more than 25,000 companies. Finding enough workers with the technical skills to fill open jobs has been a challenge.
“As the industry continues to shift further towards automation and CNC – computer numerical control – as a means of accelerating production, the U.S. will need more individuals with this skill set than ever before,” he tells WorkingNation.
To help meet this need, the nonprofit created a Next Generation Manufacturing Training (NGMT) program specifically designed for CNC operators. Unlike most college CNC programs that focus on the programming side, students are trained through a combination of traditional manual machining tools and CNC while simultaneously learning the fundamentals of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).
Spurlock says that this type of training helps students make the connection between machine, program, and operator. Additionally, through a partnership with Autodesk, all trainees have access to industry-recognized certification at no cost.
CNC operators can make family-sustaining wages in California. The mean annual salary is $46,240 in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Training + Support = Success
All Bay Area residents 18-years-old and older are eligible for the free program, and no prior manufacturing experience is required.
Christina Laynas was a front desk clerk at a hotel when she toured Humanmade. She had never worked in manufacturing or with machinery when she entered into the NGMT program.
“The job I had felt repetitive and I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new. I was looking for a change in scenery, something more challenging. I felt stuck, and I thought I would be working a dead-end job for the rest of my life,” Laynas says.
While the training is subsidized through contributions, grants, and city and statewide support, some students still need to work while learning their new skills. Humanmade offers wraparound services, during the training and for a year after graduation.
For example, to address food insecurity, free snacks and chef-made daily meals are now provided to all students. An on-site client support and outreach coordinator also helps students access community and support services to mitigate challenges or barriers.
Industry partners including Cruise, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Black and Decker provide funding for the program. The San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) has been a partner since its inception, calling Humanmade the city’s “first advanced manufacturing sector bridge academy.”
Equitable Access to Training and Jobs
The student body is diverse in various aspects: 72% identify as BIPOC, more than a quarter are women, and about a quarter identify as LGBTQ+. Generationally, more than half are 25-44 years old. An overwhelming majority (70%) are in the extremely low-income bracket.
“Unfortunately, in the Bay Area, income inequality is a harsh reality that threatens the livelihood of entire communities, and many of our students lack access to basic needs such as food, housing, and medications. These inequalities have only been exacerbated over the course of the pandemic,” Spurlock says.
“This program is essential to creating and maintaining a thriving, sustainable future for individuals, communities, and the manufacturing industry that desperately needs well qualified and skilled employees,” he adds.
In addition to training and certifications, Humanmade also offers job placement. In the past three years, 103 students have completed the training; 82 found jobs, are continuing their education, or started their own businesses. Spurlock says those who secured jobs two years ago are still employed, proving that the training combined with the support services helped students enter into the industry and thrive.
“Unfortunately, a wide variety of experiences before coming into Humanmade have led many of our participants to feel that an equitable outcome was not an option for their futures. Prior incarceration, struggles in traditional academic settings, severe limitations in financial resources and basic needs have all historically prevented many from accessing available employment opportunities and careers in the tech and advanced manufacturing sector,” he says.
“After only 12 weeks of training, our students leave with a sense of accomplishment and recognition of their own value. This not only has effects for our individual students, but also their families and our communities. As children see their older siblings or parents go through the training, or neighbors witness each other entering into skilled manufacturing positions, they begin to consider possibilities they may not have known were there before.”
Laynas says she experienced that transformation herself. She enjoyed her time at Humanmade so much that after completing the program, she now works there as a Junior Project Specialist.
“I feel like I learned to be much more assertive. I’ve also learned how to use several of the machines at my current job, such as manual lathe, wood lathe, Tormach (CNC machinery), manual mill, and laser cutter,” she says.
“(Training at Humanmade) was eye opening. I wished I had been exposed to this manufacturing scene much sooner, my life would have taken a different turn.”