MOORE — Steve Dwyer has always been a hands-on kind of guy.
As a child in Meeker, he repaired equipment on the family farm.
As a soldier in Iraq, he drove a tank as part of a unit protecting Baghdad.
Even after a rocket explosion hit his tank and blew the 350-pound hatch onto him — folding him in half and breaking his neck in three places — Dwyer's love of working with machines didn't waver.
Trouble was, when he returned to the United States, there wasn't a big demand for tank drivers. So Dwyer used the GI Bill to enroll in Moore Norman Technology Center's Precision Machining program, which he completed in the spring of 2012.
“Steve is creative, mechanically minded and a good problem solver,” said precision machining instructor Tracy Jones. “He doesn't just want to know the answer; he wants to know how to get there and how the answer might change in the future.”
With about a half semester left to complete, Dwyer received a phone call from Jones, who asked him to participate in a districtwide machining competition two days later.
“I didn't practice at all, but out of 30 guys I took second place and got to go to the state finals in Tulsa,” Dwyer said.
He captured first prize at state and moved on to the national competition in Kansas City. In a field of 56, he placed 18th.
“I was the only representative of an Oklahoma CareerTech school and competed against guys who had been machining for four to five years,” he says. “The experience was solid gold for my resume.”
As proof, Dwyer landed a job with Applied Industrial Machining in Oklahoma City after his return from Kansas City. He works primarily on oil field equipment, with projects varying widely in size, configuration and complexity.
If he has a part that is especially complex or difficult to machine, he is particularly satisfied when he makes a lot of them in one day.
“I take a lot of pride in work and am a little compulsive about details,” he said.
Key to his success, he says, is being familiar with every inch and quirk of his machine.
“It's very important to know your machine — how it changes during a shift, what it is ‘thinking.' If you switch to a different machine, you have to learn a whole new set of habits. A good machinist really is one with his machine.”
To get there, Dwyer offers this advice: “If you want to learn, your instructor will teach you everything you want to know. Be self-directed and apply yourself. The training you will get is too good an experience to squander. You will have an automatic career that is fun and challenging and you won't have crippling school debt.”
Precision machinists are in high demand.
“I have more jobs than students,” says Jones. “But most people outside manufacturing don't understand what we do. They take a part out of a box and don't realize how that part got to be. We made the part and we made the box. Without us, nothing else gets done.”
Debra Levy Martinelli is principal, LevyMart Public Relations.
If you want to learn, your instructor will teach you everything you want to know. ... The training you will get is too good an experience to squander.”