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Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. and Keene State College celebrate the first graduates from their Manufacturing Engineering Certificate Program

Struggling to find qualified engineers locally and having mixed success in retaining talent recruited from elsewhere, Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. of Milford partnered with Keene State College in 2015 to create an in-house Manufacturing Engineering Certificate program.

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Hitchiner’s first class of seven employees will graduate Saturday (June 23) having completed 400 hours of classroom work over three years. For Hitchiner’s needs, this training equates to a four-year college degree, said Timothy C. Sullivan, Esq., company Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Services.

“We knew there were people in our nonexempt workforce had the aptitude to be a successful engineer at Hitchiner, certainly, however they did not have the foundational education requirements,” Sullivan said. The partnership with Keene State College, which brought the classroom instruction to Hitchiner’s Milford building, filled that gap.

The Manufacturing Engineering Certificate program was open to all of Hitchiner’s 700 employees at no cost. Of the approximately 16 who began the program in 2015, and over 40 who enrolled in the program after the curriculum cycle began, seven have completed all 12 courses. They are: Renee Daigneault of Lowell, MA.; Britta Doucet of Milford; Michael Jarvis of Wilton; Richard Moore of Milford; Joe Peterson of Milford; Amy Petrain of Manchester; and Gustavo Tavarez Diaz of Nashua.

Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. produces investment castings, finished parts, and assemblies for the aerospace, defense, automotive, and medical industries. Its counter-gravity casting technique allows the company to produce multiple detailed parts per mold.

Daignault joined Hitchiner in 2007 as a cell operator with plans to work a year before going to college. Since then, she has stepped into a new position every couple of years to learn new aspects of the investment casting process. Sullivan said Daignault has been promoted twice since enrolling in the program, first to Associate Quality Engineer and to her current position of Quality Engineer 1.

Daignault would have completed her education in less time had she gone to college as planned. But she is happy not to be carrying huge college debt. One day, Daignault would like to get into management at Hitchiner.

Amy Petrain was working in the fast food industry when she came to Hitchiner in 2011. A friend’s husband saw a sign seeking employees and encouraged Petrain to apply. Like Daignault, she started as a cell operator and has worked her way up to different positions. “Hitchiner believes in promoting from within,” she said.

Petrain is now a Quality Inspector, which means she is representing Hitchiner customers by ensuring the parts manufactured meet quality standards.

Petrain had taken courses in management during her time in fast food but had not had the opportunity to go to college. The Manufacturing Engineering Certificate program took Petrain longer than the 1 ½ years she had expected, but she has no complaints. “This was a real opportunity,” she said. “I love my job and what I do, but I also would love to take that next step.”

Now, when Petrain applies for openings within Hitchiner, she is on par with someone holding a four-year degree. “This training will set me up with opportunities I would not have had,” Petrain said.

Petrain is already continuing her education at SNHU in business administration with Hitchiner’s help paying for tuition.

Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. has been in Milford since 1951. The company believes investing in its human capacity has a strong return on investment in terms of competitiveness. Over the last 10 years Hitchiner’s casting technology has evolved, become more automated and improved along with the industries it serves. Workforce development has had to keep up with technological advances.