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New South Coast lab training people for lucrative, yet vacant manufacturing jobs in region

Manny Perez is a manufacturing program student at Ventura College. He's working in the new Gene Haas Manufacturing Lab at Ventura College.

Employers say hundreds of jobs unfilled because they can't find qualified applicants.

Many Perez is operating a complex looking machine. Perez is learning how to become a machinist in a unique program at Ventura College.

The 36-year-old father of two was working at a ceramics company which went out of business, so he decided to go back to school.

"I was being hard-headed about my age, and not wanting to go back to school" said Perez. "It was my children who were the inspiration, to be able to provide better for them."

In a time where we hear it’s sometimes difficult to find well-paying jobs on the Central and South Coasts, some companies in the region have machinists, and other manufacturing jobs they can’t fill because they’re no one qualified.

"I hear almost every day from people that are looking for skilled individuals that are able to go to work." said John Clark, the lead faculty member for the Ventura College Advanced Manufacturing Lab. "We have companies here in Ventura County which have 50 openings, they have 80 openings, and they are unable to fill them."

Clark is standing in a building that’s the size of a gym which is filled with some high-tech manufacturing machines.

The new Gene Haas Manufacturing Lab at Ventura College is training people with state-of-the-art equipment, so they will be ready to step into job in the community. Some students are already in apprenticeship programs giving them hands-on paid experience, while providing badly needed help for companies.

The Gene Haas Foundation donated $250,000 to the Ventura College Foundation to relocate this machinery into the college’s Applied Science Center.

The Foundation is an offshoot of Oxnard-based Haas Automation, which is the largest machine tool maker in the world. It's a gift that will help give people jobs, as well as create a much needed trained employee pool in the region.

Peter Zierhut is the Vice President of Outside Operations for Haas Automation. He says there are jobs just waiting for graduates of the Ventura College program. "The only reason you won't up with a job is if you don't want one," said Zierhut. "They're available. There are hundreds of these jobs available in Ventura County, probably 100 in our company alone."

Ventura College Foundation Executive Director Anne Paul King says this is the latest in a series of gifts by the Haas Foundation to help the college’s vocational programs.

The jobs can start in the $15 an hour range for students, but trained machinists can make $35 an hour by the time they finish their apprenticeships.

Perez still has two years to go before he graduates, but the Oxnard man is already in a paid apprentice program.

He says he’s excited and proud of his new career, and he’s hoping this will serve as an example for his kids about the value of going to college.

"It's to show them when they get older, hey, Daddy did it," said Perez. You're going to do it too."

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.