GED to machinist: A training success story

When Robert Henderson was a teenager in Milton, he figured he had most if not all the answers.

“As soon as I could get a full-time job, I was out of school and working,’’ he said of putting aside his education before completing his high school degree.

Now, some 20 years later, Henderson received his Blackhawk Technical College degree in the Computer Numeric Control program, which he completed last fall.

Obviously, he is smarter as a result of his four-year return to the academic world, a foray that has since helped him land a full-time position at Fairbanks Morse Engine in Beloit. More important, he is wiser to the ways of the world in this age of technology in a factory setting.

“As I got a little older,’’ he recalled, “I began to realize that it is tough to be successful and make it through 20 or 30 years on the job without going to college. If you have any hopes of having a better life, you have to go to school.’’

It wasn’t as if Henderson, now 38, was unsuccessful. He worked at two area companies for 20 years. He developed skills as a welder thanks to the on-the-job training of his fellow employees. But four years ago, he sensed he was spinning his wheels. His lack of formal education left him with few future prospects.

“I realized that at the least I needed my high school degree,’’ he said.

That decision opened the door to a whole new world. He started at Blackhawk’s Beloit Center, where he worked on earning his High School Equivalency Diploma.

“It was scary at first,’’ Henderson remembered about his return to the classroom. “But more than anything, the people at Blackhawk understood what I was trying to do, and everyone was willing to help me a lot.’’

It was at the Beloit Center that he met instructors who encouraged him to consider taking the next step – earning a program degree. “I had never ever even thought about college,’’ he said.

His investigation led him to the CNC program, which explores modern computer technology in factory machining. “There were so many companies looking for machinists,’’ he said.

He spent three years in the program, one more than usual because of his full-time job responsibilities. But his success there led him to an opportunity at Fairbanks Morse Engine.

He did it with the help of many at Blackhawk, including the staff of the new Student Success Center. Henderson received academic assistance at the Center, especially in the Mathematics courses required in the CNC program. But he also received guidance in how to find a job and meet the requirements of applying for a position.

“It can be very intimidating if you have never filled out a resume online, but the people in the Student Success Center were very helpful,’’ Henderson explained. “It didn’t matter if it was resumes or helping me with my schoolwork, they were always willing to sit down with me and explain things in depth.’’

Henderson’s story is far from over. His current position at FEM involves manual boring bars, a far cry from the hi-tech field he studied at Blackhawk. However, he looks forward to pursuing CNC opportunities at FEM once his six-month probationary period is over.

He offered some advice to those who may find themselves in the same position he was a few years ago. “Don’t wait to go back to school,’’ he said.

And he doesn’t hesitate to recommend Blackhawk. “What has happened to me never could have happened without Blackhawk,’’ he said. “I can 100 percent guarantee that.’’