Gabriel Kooyers

Jun 28, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Gabriel Kooyers

Gabe's CNC Story

importance of inspiring youth at the high school level to pursue hands-on class options- eventually leading to potential career paths in machining and related fields. “Hooking” them with technology and course content from the popular Titans of CNC has increased student interest.

Recently, Jon House of hireCNC discussed Gabe’s approach to education with him.


hireCNC: Tell us about the Van Buren Tech school.

Gabe: Van Buren Tech is a countywide Career Technical Education school for (high school) juniors and seniors and we expand upon their normal schooling. We have 15 different schools that send students to us. We have 24 programs under one roof: Construction, Welding, Cosmetology, Nursing patient care, Fire Science, Law Enforcement, EMS, Automotive, Engineering/Architecture, Agriculture, etc. Juniors and seniors come here from their local schools for two hours each day.

Every year, over a span of two days, every 8th grader in the county comes here, and it's a free for all. It's a way to expose them to everything happening here. Each class has demos set up, and the 8th graders are allowed to roam to any and all classes. Then in 10th grade, after they have done some career counseling and taken some career testing, they visit again- but it's a more narrowed focus. They visit three different programs from the fields they are interested and qualified in. After that, they enroll either in their 11th or 12th grade year.


hireCNC: That's amazing because I think a lot of high schools don't have anything and then it's too late.

Gabe: Exactly. This is the biggest thing- If we want to shorten the skills gap you need to hook them in in high school before its too late. Over the past twenty to thirty years with the focus shifting towards “you have to go to a four-year school to be successful” the gap has been getting bigger. Unfortunately, the government has prioritized funding for colleges rather than investing in skilled trades and shop classes, resulting in their removal from high schools. This poses a challenge as students have already selected their career paths by that point. You’ve got to hook them in high school. At the college level it should be going above and beyond with the advanced skills instead of teaching the basics. The basic and medial levels of CNC should be taught at a high school level. The students need to know that there is an amazing, awesome world of CNC and manufacturing out there that they have never been shown before. Based on my experience, when students gain exposure to the world of manufacturing, they often exclaim, "Wow, I want to pursue this!" and subsequently embark on a path that involves either apprenticeships or higher education. Over the past two decades, the prevailing narrative has been that a four-year degree guarantees a good job. However, this mindset has led to a shortage of skilled tradespeople, which we are currently witnessing. Prominent figures like Mike Rowe and Titan Gilroy have consistently addressed this issue. In our state specifically, a lot of funding went to colleges. Even with them having the best equipment i.e. 3 axis, 5 axis, robots, their enrollment in CNC programs is still low. Well, nobody's getting fed into their program. There has to be a path.


hireCNC: How did you get started in CNC Machining?

Gabe: Actually, I was a student in the program that I am teaching, and I wanted to be an engineer. I was an example of the system. If I go to a four-year school, then I will be successful. I saw this as a road to get a company to pay for my engineering degree. I started, and I absolutely loved it.

We just had one CNC machine at that time- an old Fadal, black screen, green graphics, and we would make license plates with different icons like John Deere, Ford or Chevy- that was a big thing. Then I got a co-op job for a plastic injection mold maker. I got my apprenticeship, my Journeyman's card in plastic injection mold making. I received my Journeyman's card, and then a year later, my machining instructor was retiring. I thought, that would be cool, and went ahead and applied for the job. Because I had industry experience, they hired me. The program had downturned, and they had a lack of enrollment, so I started at half time, and then I went back to school full time until I got my teaching degree.


hireCNC:  What do we need to do differently to get more people into the trades?

Gabe: Hooking them at high school. Titans of CNC academy has been the change that I needed in my class. They supply industry relevant parts that give examples of the different operations that the student will need. Titan is also making a big movement for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  In our county we have a countywide STEM initiative that has been great because the Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers with industry experience have been able to connect and share content with local math and science teachers. This helps connect the schools to Van Buren Tech and makes these local schools more likely to send students to us.


hireCNC: You have a lot of students coming through your program, and then they have to make a decision of what to do after high school? In terms of a career in Machining, if a student comes to you and says they like Machining, but should they do a four-year degree over here instead, what do you say?

Gabe: We have a database of employers that we've worked with over the years. We also have a career placement coordinator, Dave Anderson. He coordinates interactions between the classroom and industry. I get to know the students over the course of the one to two years that they're with me. Do they want to move? Do they want to stay local? This student is over in this side of the county, so I'm going to be looking for a placement within a 20 miles radius of their side. What companies would fit that student the best? I go out and visit companies a lot so that I know their atmosphere, their culture, so I can try to fit it to the student. During conversations with students, I inquire about their aspirations and goals. Additionally, I encourage them to engage in activities such as drawing, programming, setting up, cutting, and inspecting, which expose them to four distinct career fields. One likes drawing- that's a whole career field, and the same with set up and programming. Or if they like it all maybe a job shop is better for you. If they want big, long-term projects, then a production shop would be better for you. That's how we try to match, by getting to know the student, getting to know the company, and then matching not only the geographic location, but also the needs and the culture of the company to the student.


hireCNC: What preconceived notions we should set straight regarding the CNC trade?

Gabe: It’s not your grandpa’s shop anymore. In 2011, one of my advisory committee members who worked at Stryker Medical Instruments gave my great advice. I had been struggling with enrollment. I would ask my advisory members; “How can I make my class and trade exciting for high school students and relevant for industry?” And he said, you want to change the image of what manufacturing is- get white epoxied floors. It's an investment, but you change that, and you will start to change the image of what manufacturing is. Because of this, we installed white Epoxy floors and nice LED lighting. We got rid of all the old green machines and changed the lay out. As you walk into the shop, the first thing you see is the CNC department. Three CNCs right up front, laid out in orderly, straight lines with the rest being the manual machine area. It supports the cleanliness and precision that CNC is all about. The epoxied white floor is changing the image of manufacturing. Many people who previously would have turned a blind eye at the class, are now intrigued and interested and because of this I have seen a higher enrollment rate in my class.


hireCNC: Do you teach manual first and then graduate into CNC?

Gabe: For my first 12 years I did. Then in November of 2016, the Titans of CNC Academy was released. That first year of the academy I had each student individually pick an academy building block. That was the wrong approach as they are designed in order to build off of previous models. Next year, in the fall of 2017, I redesigned my teaching style. Students started the year out drawing and programming in Mastercam then cutting the Titans of CNC building block projects. Over the year we focused mostly on CNC and would have the students use the manual mills to do secondary operations. Now I have the students cut a tap block project that includes manual lathe and mill then we start into the Titans of CNC academy. They cut Titan-1M and 2M then afterwards cut Titan-2M manually. They then repeat the mixture of 2 CNC projects to 1 Manual project. This allows the students get an advanced CNC program along with learning manual machining skills. The students are normally able to complete around eight- ten of the Titans of CNC building blocks and three manual machining projects by the end of the year.

The hybrid of going back and forth also helps me because if the CNC machine is filled up at that day, the student has a manual project they can start moving forward on. If they’re caught up in CAD/CAM, then as soon as the CNC machine opens up, Boom, you're out there. It makes it agile so that we can shift all over the class. That's what I've come up with. I still have one or two of my advisory members who use manual machines, and if they want experience feeling the crank of the handle and I respect that.

During the year after COVID, that whole hybrid year, I didn't touch manuals whatsoever and we got the same number of parts cut with the students only being in class two days a week. The year prior, during the whole shutdown, I worked to get sponsorships to get students personal laptops to use at home. We needed these because either the students didn't have Internet or they didn’t have a laptop strong enough to run Mastercam. I called probably 80 to 100 companies to see if they’d be willing to donate money for these laptops. With school pricing, I got 22 laptops sponsored by our local industry and another 18 my superintendent covered the cost of. Because of this, I now have 40 laptops that I can loan out to students that are strong enough to run Mastercam. That hybrid year, the students were only in class two days a week being virtual on the laptops the other three. Once each week, I’d hold virtual meetings with the students where, for example, I'd ask, “Johnny, how's your Titan 2M going” and we could share our screens. Everyone else is watching me and Johnny troubleshoot through the program. The other students learn by watching how we fixed Johnny’s drawing/program. Purely because of these laptops, even with only being class two days a week, we were able to get through the same number of parts as the previous normal year. That was cool.


hireCNC: Finally, is there any upcoming technology that you're interested in over the next five to ten years in the industry?

Gabe: The next step for my class is five axis. All my employers at my advisory committee this year have requested this. I'm always asking, what can I do to get better and since the trade is always changing, there always is. I love this trade because of that. The next thing for us, my advisory committee said- you need to get into five axis. I asked am I ready for it? Do I kind of tiptoe into five axis? My advisory committee said no, you are ready now-- go for it. I am trying to finalize and find room for it in the budget in the next few years and hopefully soon we will have one.

Looking into the future a machine I would like to look into is a hybrid of 3d printing and cnc machining. This machine 3d prints a rough part, then retracts the 3d printer head and finishes the part with a cnc head. I am so excited about that. That is the next huge thing that I think is going to be spectacular to see develop.

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