Rich Shouse

Jan 12, 2024 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Rich Shouse

Rich's CNC Story

The Division Chair / CNC Tool & Die Instructor at Gateway Technical College in Elkhorn, WI, Rich Shouse leverages his 20 years experience in industry to teach the next generation of machinists on state-of-the-art equipment! 

Recently, Jon House of hireCNC had the opportunity to ask Rich about his CNC Story.


hireCNC: How did you get started in machining?

Rich: My whole family was pretty much involved in manufacturing. My grandfather was a tool and die maker and my dad was a welder. So, it was kind of in the family. I've always been around it. And my first job was through a youth apprenticeship program at my high school. I started at a local machine shop, Coleman Tool when I was 17. I left for half of my day and started working in their tool room there.


hireCNC: What was your first job there? Were you sweeping floors or were you on the machines?

Rich: They were really good about it. My first day there, I was on a machine. I think I was facing 100 pins or something like that. But they had me primarily in the tool room, which was pretty cool. I got to work with some mentors that showed me the ropes on Hardinge, and Bridgeport knee mills. We built fixturing for the CNC side of the program, and we built components for Briggs and Stratton at that time. It was pretty cool. 


hireCNC: At that time did you already know that you wanted a career in machining?

Rich: People describe their aha moment or whatever. For me, as I was touring the place on my first day, I was walking around some of the machinists… and there was a tool maker running a Bridgeport mill. He was face cutting some aluminum, and it was just a rainbow of chips coming off that machine, and they were bouncing off of him and hitting the floor and the wall behind him. And I was like, “wow, that looks so awesome”. I was so stoked at that moment. Locked in 100%. 


hireCNC: Are most of the students coming into your program fully committed to a career in machining? Or are a lot of them still searching for something to capture their interest?

Rich: There are a couple of different groups. I teach a high school academy. High school students from all of our local high schools - they'll come and spend a few hours a day with me and earn some college credentials. So with those folks, some of them don't even know what machining is when they start out. They just know that they want to get out of school for a half a day and come and rip some chips in my shop. But I think after identifying their hobbies and what they like to do, we can mold a classroom around that… doing something fun. We're not just making widgets or sitting in a classroom doing homework and stuff. I think they get pretty excited about that. 

My traditional adult college students, I would say there's a mix of them. Some of them are in industry already, and they're looking to upskill. They might be a CNC operator, and they want to learn set up or programming. Or we have somebody that is in their late 20s that was tired of being a fork truck driver, and they want to learn a skilled trade. They've been around some factories and seen who's doing the cool stuff and making the big money, and they want to be a part of that. 


hireCNC: Can you describe your career path in Industry?

Rich: The first job was a great job out of high school, but it was a little bit of a far drive for me at the time… 45 minutes per day. So I ended up getting a job that was a little bit closer. I thought it was really cool at the time. They made motorcycle components, which was exciting. Both those companies (Coleman Tool and Rivco products) were great places to start my career. They were small, family-owned companies. 

There's a lot of leeway when it comes to that sort of atmosphere. It's beneficial for the company for you to learn as much as you can and be as good at as many different things as you can.  I spent a long time at Rivco. I worked in the toolroom initially, building prototypes and fixturing. Eventually, I was tool lead. Then I got into CNC. I did some Mastercam training way back in the version seven and eight days. Then I was the shop foreman there for my last five years. I was in charge of welding, polishing, machining, CNC, as well as the tool room style machine. What was really good about that company is they kept me fed, and any new challenge that I was ready to take, they put me onto it. 

The downside of that is that I felt like I kind of capped out by the time I was in my mid thirties. I was 35 years old, and I was like, “what am I going to do now”? I'm already the foreman. I was dealing with managerial type issues and I was machining less and less, and that was kind of a bummer for me. So I was looking for a bigger company, and that's when I went to Evinrude-BRP. That was a really great place to work. Super clean, super modern. Everybody there had a really great attitude. But working for a bigger company was definitely a transition for me from coming from smaller, small time, family-owned companies. 


hireCNC: What advice do you give your graduating students in terms of what type of company they should start their career working for?

Rich: We are partnered with many local companies. Precision Plus, they have a fantastic mentorship program where they run their youth apprentices through all the departments of their company. They have a person dedicated to training youth apprentices, his name is Barry Butters. He's phenomenal at what he does. And their goal is to really give high school age students experience in every single department. Manufacturing just isn't about machining. 

There are many other departments that follow that up, whether you're going to be in QC or shipping & receiving as just two examples. They're able to give those high school students an experience there. And there are other companies in our area that helps as well. SPX Flow is another one that's good at having a mentor on one piece of equipment and taking the time to show somebody something specific. My biggest fear is that a high school age student would get into manufacturing and someone would say “here’s a broom, I don’t know what you’re going to do today”.


hireCNC: How do you balance manual machining, CNC and CAD/CAM in your program?

Rich: I think what's unique about our program at Gateway is that our semesters and our certificates line up with jobs in industry. Our first semester, which is basically gauging, blueprint reading, some machine processes and some CNC work, you get an operator certificate. And the focus really is operating CNC machines. Offsets, touching off tools, running some parts, making sure you can measure them, and read a blueprint. There's a little bit of manual work in there. We teach our students procedural stuff, like how to properly drill a hole, tap a hole, ream a hole, so that they're getting a hands on feel of maybe what a dull tool feels like or what it feels like when they're running it too slow. CNC machines are pretty forgiving in that way sometimes, or they just break and you're not really sure what happened. 

Our second semester is geared towards setup folks. We call it “CNC Production Technician”, and we're training them how to set up machines from job packets. In that semester there is quite a bit of manual work. Students are building projects from prints using all those procedures they learned in the first semester to make parts to a blueprint. We have Mastercam integrated all the way through the program. So as we're learning really easy stuff, like title blocks etc., they're actually drawing and coming up with their own title block in Mastercam. They get an early introduction to that right from the beginning. 

Our final semester is multi axis machining, Swiss machining, y axis and c axis live tool lathes, along with Mastercam programming.

Our labs are outfitted really well. We have 5 axis machines, live tool y axis lathes, as well swiss lathes.


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

Rich: People always say that machining is low pay compared to some of the other trades. But I think that what people don't take into mind is that you're sitting in typically an air conditioned or heated space. Sometimes there's heavy physical work, but for the most part it's not. You could be a 50, 60, 70 year old machinist running parts still. You're not going to see too many folks that age in other trades that are often a little bit harder on your body. When it's 90 degrees outside, it's still 68 in the shop. That's pretty awesome. You're not on a roof or mixing concrete or something like that. I think that people just need to take the bigger picture into mind. 

It's just like anything that you do. Your potential to earn is directly tied to what you're going to put into the job that you have. There are folks that will spend their whole careers being an operator, making a lower scale wage. I'm thankful for that, so I don't have to do that. But there's other people like me for instance, when I started in the machining trade, my intent wasn't to become a college instructor. That was never my intent. But I have to say it's a pretty awesome job and I took a nontraditional career path to get there. 


hireCNC: Is there any technology you’re looking at for your program over the next 5-10 years?

Rich: We need to make sure sure that we're staying current through automation. That might be robot loaded machining cells. We do have some of those too. At gateway, we can't be teaching old technology. Staying current on whether it's probing routines, macro programming, or some of the higher-level stuff I think is really important for our local business partners to be able to be competitive by having the right people in place that are trained. 

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