Each week, machinists at Hoffer Flow Controls, Inc. in Elizabeth City, N.C., churn out approximately 85 turbine flowmeters bound for companies across the globe. The custom-made meters, which can be as tiny as an eraser head or as large as an automobile tire, are used to measure the flow of everything from natural gas in Venezuela to the velocity of fuel systems over the seas aboard U.S. Navy ships.
Overseeing the machine shop where these high-precision parts are made is Mechanical Production Supervisor Jason Futrell. It’s a job for which he was well-prepared.
Like nearly all of the 22 machinists at Hoffer Flow Controls, Futrell graduated from the machining technology program at College of the Albemarle (COA). A rigorous 12-month course that requires students to attend approximately 30 hours a week of classes and lab time, the program is intensive, highly technical—and perhaps a little misunderstood.
“In the past, the mindset was if you’re good with your hands you go into a vocational trade,” said Stanley Nixon, department chair of COA’s Industrial Technology program. “Today what you need to succeed as a machinist is a proficiency in math and science, good cognitive skills and the ability to communicate well with others.”
Graduates of COA’s machinist program are employed in well-paying jobs throughout the region and beyond. A large number of the supervisors in the sheet metal lab at the U.S. Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City are COA grads, while others who have completed the program are employed with such companies as Hockmeyer Equipment Corporation, Mitek Industries, Inc., Nucor Steel—and Hoffer Flow Controls.
On the job
It’s a Tuesday morning in the machine shop, and Futrell refers to his well-worn notebook for the day’s orders. He divides his time between administrative duties in the small office that overlooks the machine shop and being out on the floor. His job is to manage the production of the flowmeters, test them in quality control, double-check the orders and pass them on to shipping. Machines hum in the spacious, clean shop as workers craft, hone, weld and blast the parts into submission.
“This is a good place to work” he says, looking around.
While a student at Northeastern High School, Futrell took introductory classes in carpentry, automotives and machinery. A few years after graduating, he applied for a job at Hoffer Flow Controls at the suggestion of his sister, who is also employed with the company.
“They were looking for someone to run errands, cut materials and handle sandblasting tasks,” he said. Soon after he started in 1995, CEO Ken Hoffer suggested Futrell enroll in COA’s machinist program so he could move up in the company.
Futrell was psyched about the program, attending classes in the morning, then pulling a second shift in the afternoon. In 1997 he graduated with a diploma in machining technology.
“If it’s a field you want to get into, it’s something you need to have,” said Futrell.
Nixon agrees wholeheartedly.
“Getting your degree is your first step,” said Nixon. “There is a huge demand for educated, trained machinists, and wages have climbed dramatically because the demand for these jobs is so strong,” said Nixon.
For Futrell, the education has paid off. From the assistant’s position, he worked his way up to a machinist, programming and operating CNC machines throughout the shop. He was promoted to mechanical production supervisor in 2006.
Nixon remembers Futrell as being an exemplary student—very committed, precise. “For a young person, with a good head on their shoulders, this is a good career,” he said.