Yuba College Manufacturing, Welding Score Big at National Project MFG Showcase
Joe Bauer doesn’t just remember last year’s national Project MFG finals… he still feels the adrenaline: The rush of the countdown clock. The wave of intensity watching his students add final touches to their project. The nail-biting anticipation of the judge’s scores.
For all the excitement in the atmosphere, the prestigious national manufacturing competition could have been an NCAA final or a Super Bowl.
“Just like any sports team, we have practice in the months leading up to the qualifying rounds,” explains Bauer, a manufacturing instructor at Yuba College and coach for the college’s Project MFG team.
But the students representing Yuba College weren’t kicking field goals or sinking baskets on that triumphant January day. They were showcasing their top-tier skills in the manufacturing and welding field across elite competitors from throughout the country. And after months of mentoring the Yuba College team, Bauer was honored, if anxious, to embrace the role of spectator.
“Once the competition starts, it’s up to them to collaborate and problem solve,” says the proud coach, who led Yuba’s four manufacturing and welding student representatives throughout the trade-focused Project MFG competition. The 2022 team moved from the qualifying rounds to regionals before ultimately securing a spot in the finals amongst three other nationally ranked colleges.
From there, Yuba’s team locked in a second-place win at Project MFG’s 2022 ‘Clash of Trades’ competition, which featured a reality show-style series on its YouTube channel. Along with second-place honors, the team was awarded a check for $15,000 to split amongst the four students and contribute back to the manufacturing program.
“I cannot express how proud I am of the team and all of our awesome students,” reflects Bauer on the clutch victory.
This January, students put their hats in the ring once more for the 2023 Project MFG qualification rounds. And though Yuba College didn’t make it into regionals this time, the dedicated team’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“My students are so passionate and hungry to learn, they did this entire competition on their own time outside of class,” boasts the impressed instructor. “The students know that this competition goes above and beyond what I would ask of them in class, and I think that is why they want to challenge themselves.”
he national rounds for the 2022 Project MFG competition were no simple task. The challenge presented an aviation theme for competing teams, in which students were tasked with designing and building a five-piece aviation-inspired test system with a custom-built wind turbine. Scores were calculated in four different categories, including the design and build of the topper piece, an integral systems test, overall team performance, and the overhead cost of the project.
“It really pushes the skills and the skill level of the students to reach higher than they thought they could,” says Yuba College welding instructor Dan Turner. “Because these are not easy parts that they have to assemble and make.”
While the competition offers the chance to win cash — along with some bragging rights — it also represents a head start for students on the job hunt. Participants get the opportunity to engage essential career skills and experience real-world situations, like clients switching up work orders, adjusting to last-minute changes, or working in a high-pressure environment.
“It’s a competition like no other,” says Turner. “It’s inspiring to just see that there is a competition out there that breaks away from the norm.
“They stretch your imagination, your design, your execution, your assembly.”
Project MFG is a launching pad for manufacturing and welding students throughout the region and country. The project hosts various competitions across the United States, including stand-alone events in welding, integrated manufacturing, and machining, where students can put their skills to the test and network with other professionals in the advanced manufacturing field.
Beyond the valuable resume experience and scholarship opportunities implied, Bauer says there are “too many benefits to mention” for students participating in the competitions.
“If I had to list some: … faster industry pace, more complicated five-axis CNC machining, collaboration between machining and welding students, traveling with your team to compete and meet with teams from all over the country, building industry level skills [and] recognition for their hard work,” says the lifelong industry expert.
Yuba College, like the Sacramento Valley region as a whole, is stepping up to the podium as one of the next-generation game-changers in manufacturing and welding, in California and beyond. According to Turner, Yuba College is the only school “west of the Mississippi” that competes in the exclusive Project MFG competition.
“If you look at where I am in Marysville or Yuba City, within 100 miles, you have five world-class welding programs,” says Turner. “You have Shasta College, Butte College, Yuba College, American River, Consumnes, Delta … And so, this area, as far as training goes, I always tell people ‘We’re from the other California.
“The training we have for the blue collar is incredible. And the passion of the instructors … it’s amazing.”
With more than 54,000 advanced manufacturing jobs in the North and Far North, and nearly 500 open welding positions, cultivating a highly skilled regional workforce and preserving the standards of the region’s manufacturing reputation is increasingly vital.
“When [students] walked through my door a few semesters ago, they had zero prior machining experience,” remarks Bauer. “Now, they are competing against trade schools at an extremely high level.”
Yuba College’s manufacturing and welding programs offer a comprehensive, hands-on approach, equipping students to land lucrative jobs soon after graduation. Qualified welding grads face average salaries around $46,640 if they stay in the region, and upwards of $75,000 in other parts of the state. Meanwhile, manufacturing pathways, like those for machinists, could lead to salaries of $75,000 or more.
And thanks to allocated Strong Workforce Funding, both the manufacturing and welding programs are keeping students sharp with state-of-the-art equipment and cutting-edge support. From the newest CAD software and milling machines to CNC lathes, welding equipment and high-tech facilities, Yuba College is giving students the green light to launch high-powered advanced manufacturing careers.
“I hope that North State continues to invest and support advanced manufacturing education and really all of STEM and the trades,” admits Bauer. “There are many grant opportunities and there are so many schools and people trying to make this work, but we have a long way to go.”
Regardless of the annual Project MFG results, Bauer believes that when it comes to “building local” and keeping Sacramento Valley industry competitive, Yuba College is a persistent winner. His advice to future manufacturing superstars? Strike while the iron is hot.
“Advanced manufacturing is fun, highly technical, and has one of the clearest paths to living wage attainment,” continues Bauer. “For a fraction of the cost, you could be in a technical career that you enjoy.
“Get out there and tour your local schools.”