In the first quarter of 2017, 45 percent of small businesses reported they were unable to find qualified applicants to fill skilled positions. In the manufacturing industry, that gap grows to 60 percent. To the untrained eye, this all looks like a problem surrounding the education system – and it is, but not in the way you might think.

The rising discussion around this profound issue suggests that the skills gap is largely due to not enough people getting involved in science, engineering, and technology. It’s also heavily suggested that we are pushing education too hard causing a shortage in the trades. America, after all, holds expensive four-year degrees in high regard, even if they don’t lead to a usable job or skill.

Solving the skills gap is a hot topic, and it’s one that few seem to fully have an answer to.

Focusing in on the skills gap in manufacturing, its a problem that doesn’t just hurt American workers, it hurts the American economy.

Since 1985, the US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, shrinking its workforce from 17.5 million to 12.5 million. Put another way, in that same time period, manufacturing’s US market share of the workforce has shrunk from 25 percent to under 9 percent.

All this manufacturing shrinkage is occurring while demand for skilled manufacturing workers has shot up. Companies like SpaceX, Tesla, and other leading manufacturers need high-precision parts and workers to make them. The jobs are there, and the money is certainly there too.

An entry-level machinist can earn anywhere between 12 to 26 dollars an hour, equating to a median salary of about 40,000 to 50,000 dollars, all this without the need for a 4-year degree. But that’s only the beginning, the more skill and the greater ability you have to machine precision parts and pay goes way up.

So, what’s the deal? We’ve been pushing STEM for some time, we’ve pushed education, we’ve pushed manufacturing… nothing is working. The skills gap continues to get worse year over year – but one man, rather one group, no, one community, is taking the skills gap and turning it inside out.

Enter Titan Gilroy and the TITANS of CNC Academy.

Titan Gilroy has an interesting approach to solving the skills gap, rooted in his experience in high-end precision machining. For those of you less familiar, Titan is the star of the TV show, TITANS of CNC, where he’s done things like teaching the inmates at San Quentin prison how to run CNC machines.

Titan’s unique story has given him perspectives that few in the US have towards the manufacturing skills gap. As an employer of machinists and manufacturing workers himself, he saw first hand the shortage of skilled machinists and qualified individuals. Students were coming out of 2,4, even 5-year schools “trained” in CNC machining with only having made a few parts. Coupled with that, these students likely sat in classrooms for months to years before they ever got to touch a machine.

So he did something no one in the world has ever done before. He created an entire CNC machining education program, tutorials, videos, files, lesson plans, and he put it out in the world completely free. What started as an experiment has grown into something even greater.

Taking it even further, Titan started a network of groups for the Academy spread across the US all joined together by one central Facebook group. Think it sounds crazy? Get this.

4 months ago, none of these groups existed. Now, there are over 15,000 people coming together in friendly helpful discussing on the internet, if you can believe it, all centered around improving their machining capabilities. I’m not kidding when I tell you that there exists likely no other more friendly and professionally helpful group on the internet. The Facebook group is nothing compared to what’s happening in garages, in shops, in manufacturing facilities across the country.

In just a few short months, there are now over 100 TITANS of CNC groups across the nation where anyone can sign up to attend. No experience needed.

These groups are hosted by volunteers, by machinists opening their doors to teach the community. These groups aren’t only for other machinists, they’re for anyone who wants to learn. Every group is run in a functioning shop with machines for attendees to learn on. They hold regular meetings where people in the groups learn by working through the projects in the Titans of CNC curriculum.

If you’re someone not familiar with the industry or even disinterested, hold on, because this is where it gets crazy.

The Academy and these groups aren’t just taking machinists and making them better, they’re taking average people and in a matter of weeks to months turning them into highly-capable machinists who can easily design, program, and CNC machine complex and advanced parts. All this success draws back to an interesting concept: from the first few days in the TITANS of CNC curriculum, you get on a machine. On day three, students are getting hands-on experience machining and from then on out, they never stop learning. Titan’s focus is to teach using the proven methods of repetition and hands-on experience. Instead of spending years in school “preparing to machine,” Titan is taking the concept of teaching by doing to heart… and it’s working.

Worcester Technical School, a well-known institution that teaches manufacturing skills was experiencing just a 10% retention rate in their program up until this year. They decided to implement the TITANS of CNC curriculum and that rate shot up to 90%.

There is quite literally a grassroots group of machinists, makers, fabricators, tradesmen growing quietly in the shadows across the nation looking to put America back on top in manufacturing and eradicate the skills gap, and no one knows.

I wanted to take an even closer look at just what makes this group so helpful and ultimately so harmonious – so I asked them.

I started a poll asking “What is your favorite thing about this group and/or the Academy?” and boy did I get a response.

Out of 225 responses to the survey, nearly one third, 32%, said that solving each other’s problems and sharing new manufacturing ideas was what they loved about the group. The next runner-up for the top response was the “community” that the group brings at 17%, followed up by positive culture at 16%. All in all, 65% of responses pinpointed the close-knit community of the group and the overall willingness to help as their favorite aspect.

A group of over 15 thousand people that genuinely want to help other people learn and improve is not usually one found on the internet in the modern day and age. It’s a culture of growth – and let me tell you, it’s a group you want to be in.

If you have any interest in learning about machining or starting a new career, there’s no other option other than the TITANS of CNC: Academy group.

All of this effort to build community and build a system of education that works is exactly how the skills gap will be solved. We’ve focused far too long on driving educational systems that don’t work and ultimately push learners away from trades. The real path to solving the skills gap is leading people to fulfillment, and that’s exactly what the Titans of CNC Academy is doing, spearheaded by perhaps the best community on the internet.


If you want to connect with TITANS of CNC you can find all of the links below!

TITANS of CNC: Academy

TITANS of CNC Fan Page

Facebook Group


This article was written by Autodesk for Manufacturing Lounge.