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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, July 15, 2013, 6:00 am

Manufacturing Awards 2013: Dan Sunia dedicates second career to machinist training

Category: Special Award

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    PETALUMA — With a welcoming smile and a warm greeting, Dan Sunia proudly invites guests to tour the machine shop at the Petaluma High School where he is celebrating his 13th year as a high school instructor and coordinator of an apprenticeship program that has seen over 100 young men and women graduate and go on to build careers as machinists in local industries.

    “The success of this program is a key achievement for Dan. Since 2000 he has been our apprenticeship program coordinator at Petaluma High School for the California Tooling and Machining Apprenticeship Association (CTMAA), an organization that grew out of the Northern California chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA),” said Richard F. Hunt Sr., president and owner of Datum Technologies and chairman of the CTMAA.

    Dan Sunia, machine shop instructor at Petaluma High School and apprenticeship program coordinator, stands next to a new CNC simulator his students can use to practice skills. (image credit: Gary Quackenbush)

    Mr. Sunia has touched so many lives. “Today his graduates and apprentice machinists are working in many Bay Area shops, and some are managing them,” said Dick Herman, president of the manufacturing trade group 101MFG. “They represent the next generation of those who personify our region’s unique strengths for precision machining, mold-making, maintenance and tool-making.”

    Due in large measure to Mr. Sunia’s reputation, the CTMAA is expanding its apprenticeship program to the Laney, DeAnza and Chabot community colleges, and is talking with Santa Rosa Junior College about doing the same. CTMAA is also working with 10 Northern California counties to begin similar programs.

    Mr. Sunia’s first exposure to machining came as a freshman at South San Francisco High School. This experience charted a course for his first career.

    After graduation, he became a laborer and helper at the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. He completed his machinist apprenticeship, and when Hunter’s Point closed, he served as a gear cutter at Mare Island Naval Shipyard where he held titles as an apprentice instructor, first line foreman, training general foreman and machining general foreman in charge of machining parts for maintaining nuclear submarines.

    Mr. Sunia spent 22 years at Mare Island as a Civil Service Federal employee for the Department of Defense. When the base closed in 1998, he moved to McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento as supervisor of the tool and die pattern shop until 2000 when the base was decommissioned.

    He retired after 31 years of Federal service and began teaching computer science classes at night at the Sonoma Valley Adult School where he became connected with the NTMA. This organization soon asked him to begin his second career by teaching apprentices at Hewlett-Packard, now Agilent Technologies’ Fountaingrove campus.

    “When I heard about the machine shop being relocated to the Petaluma High School, I applied and was offered the instructor‘s position,” he said.

    The city of Petaluma asked if he was interested in making metal benches and trash can enclosures for the community.

    “We won the contract and earned enough money to upgrade the shop with modern Haas CNC equipment, new lathes and tooling. Students and apprentices are also trained on Autodesk Inventor and MasterCAM software,” Mr. Sunia said. “We are fortunate that local firms like Agilent and GCX and many others that donate used equipment and tooling.”

    The high school received a grant from the Petaluma Education Foundation enabling us to buy a 3-D printer.

    Students in the high school machining program earn credentials through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

    Credentials are awarded for safety, bench work, lathe, milling, up through CNC operations.

    Quality control personnel at local companies inspect each student’s work for precision accuracy. If students meet the requirements, they take a proctored 90-minute on-line exam.

    To become part of the CTMAA apprenticeship, participants must be working in a machine shop with their employer funding their education. The apprenticeship takes four years, or 8,000 hours of documented work experience for their employers, plus 144 hours per year of supplemental instruction taught at the Petaluma High School shop from 6 to 10 p.m., one night a week during the regular school year.

    Future apprentices include graduates from other Sonoma County high schools as well as from a new six-week Summer Job Camp that began this year.

    Those attending the Job Camp learn skills to qualify them as entry-level employees for local machine shops. If successful, they, too, can be sponsored as apprentices by their employer.

     ”Our high school machining curriculum is well rounded. We work closely with math, science and English teachers who support what we are doing, as we also teach CNC operation and other skills needed by machinists,” he added.

     ”Most of our graduates work in the Bay Area. Entry-level apprentices earn $9.50 an hour and move up to $20/hour as journeymen,” Mr. Sunia said. “Highly experienced machinists who complete an apprenticeship can earn up to $100,000 per year.”

    “Looking ahead, we’ll need more space in the shop and more equipment. We want to make sure we have enough machines for everyone and try to keep class size under 25 for safety reasons.”

    According to Mr. Sunia, machining is a growing market today, because many experienced machinists are retiring. More than 200 companies in the North Bay have a need for machinists.

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