When Kit Carson teaches new skills to adults working in manufacturing, he can relate to their challenges.
Years ago, he was a tool-and-die maker who decided to get a college degree after one too many layoffs.
He also has a learning disability — dyslexia. "I had to read things four, five, six times to get it," he tells the students. "There's nothing in here that you can't learn that I teach," he reassures them. "There's nothing you can't do because I've done it."
Carson, 72, is retired from the Regional Career & Technical Center at the Erie County Technical School but he readily agreed when Custom Engineering Co. asked him to design a curriculum for workers already employed at the plant, 2800 McClelland Ave.
Carson will teach the classes in two-month modules. That allows him to take vacations with his wife, Deborah. The breaks also will insure that workers don't miss classes for their vacations. Offered three days a week, the classes will be divided into two 3-hour increments that align with first- and second-shift schedules.
Carson describes his training plan as "very bold," because it calls for raises for workers when they successfully pass tests. That's an incentive for workers to stay with the company, he said.
Carson had worked at Joy Manufacturing in Franklin and Oil Well Supply in Oil City when he decided he needed to go to college after being laid off. He started at Alliance College, but transferred to Edinboro after it closed, where he earned his degree in manufacturing engineering.
A U.S. Navy veteran, he's run his own general contracting company and coached wrestling, soccer and baseball. He's also trained body builders. Just as in any classroom, students — even adults — can get unruly. To keep order, Carson employs all of his career, military ,and coaching experience.
James Ohrn, vice president and chief financial officer for Custom Engineering, is excited about the training program Carson will lead. It's an apprenticeship program designed to match Custom Engineering's needs. It will take place at the plant, not at the technical school. Employees will learn about manual and computer numeric controlled machining. They will study math, blueprint reading, and safety. They will also learn about CAD-CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing). And as they progress, they will boost their earning power.
Carson said that designing such a customized job training program has been "a dream of mine for years." It could also become a dream realized for other Erie manufacturers, searching for the right tools to create and keep a skilled workforce. — Liz Allen