When Housatonic Community student Chris Heun learned the Bridgeport-based college was starting a manufacturing program, he jumped at the opportunity to join it.

It was a decision Heun doesn’t regret. In less than a year, he went from aspiring student to graduation to a position in the tool-making department at Bridgeport’s Schwerdtle Stamp Co. It was a dream come true.

“I always liked working with my hands,” said Heun, who grew up in a manufacturing family. “But finding an affordable manufacturing was a problem.”

Heun had decided to pursue another path that would allow him to work with his hands, creating works of art. Then he learned about the program, a state-supported college in downtown Bridgeport.

The two-certificate program, which is accepting applications for the fall semester, prepares students for advanced manufacturing positions that include machine operator, CNC (computer numeric control) operator, CNC programmer, assembler, and quality control inspector. These can pay in the $15 to $20 per-hour range.

A one-year program

The year-long program, which requires a 35-hour-per-week commitment from students, leads to two certificates — a basic manufacturing certificate and an advanced manufacturing certificate. Both certificate tracks are financial-aid eligible.

The basic manufacturing certificate track, which is offered in the fall, includes courses in computer-aided design (CAD), blueprint reading; drill, press and saw operation; grinding; bench work; lathe operation; milling; and CNC.

While providing the foundation to pursue the advanced manufacturing certificate, the basic certificate also will include training in math for manufacturing, lean manufacturing, metrology, computer applications, and careers in manufacturing.

The advanced certificate, offered in the spring, includes advanced courses in manufacturing math and blueprint reading; principles of quality control; and advanced manufacturing machinery courses in lathe operation, milling, and CNC.

Skills for a wide variety of jobs

Heun praised the program for its versatility. “The program prepares you for a wide variety of jobs and careers, including such things as CNC operator, CNC programmer, assembler, quality control inspector and even sales,” said the Stratford resident.

A fellow student with a strong sales background got a job in manufacturing sales, Heun noted. “With his understanding of the manufacturing process, he could go into a company and talk business and shop,” he said.

“It’s just a nine-month program but the job possibilities are endless,” he said.

Heun knew the program involved doing homework, but that it meant much more than that. “I did a lot of extracurricular work,” he said. “I went around to people saying I’d work for free. I wanted to learn as much about manufacturing as I could.”

Internship led to job

Heun did his HCC internship at Schwerdtle Stamp Co. and, when a full-time job became available at Schwerdtle, he applied for it — and got it.

Assigned to the tool-making department, he realized he found his niche. It presents him with the opportunity to use his hands and follow a career path. “It’s exhilarating to know that one of the dies I make can make a million parts,” he said.

Heun also found a career path: “I’d love to become a journeyman tool-maker. That’s a quality job.”

“I really love the job,” he said. “ When I wake up in the morning to go to work, I know I can do what I want to. That’s a great feeling.”

Registration for the fall semester at Housatonic Community College is going on now. The fall semester begins Aug. 28. Students may register at www.housatonic.edu.