A Johnson County native has started a career with Roush-Yates, and to hear his story in his own words, it would never have been possible without the Haas eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute in Paintsville.
Parker Hall, originally of Hagerhill, was one of the first cohort of eKAMI students fresh out of high school to go through the computer machining facility’s training program. He said he had focused on computers in his high school courses, but it was actually his guidance counselor who showed him the opportunity at eKAMI.
“It was a very different experience just coming out of high school, and unlike anything I would’ve done (had I gone to) college either,” Hall said. “You come to school and focus on machining all day.”
That training involves continued education in mathematics, including advanced geometry, a training he said he was ready for coming out of high school, but taught in a more hands-on way.
“Most of machining is problem solving,” Hall said. “You learn to do a lot of it in your head, on the fly.”
The advanced machine work going on at eKAMI, Hall said, was the future of industry. Whereas manual machining is slow work involving numerous machinists, CNC machinists can operate multiple machines at once and turn out parts with both greater precision and better efficiency.
Getting into Roush-Yates, Hall said, was an odd story. Part of the work at eKAMI was touring and talking with recruiters in the industry to see for themselves what the workshops will be like. Roush-Yates happened to have an opening, and eKAMI director Kathy Walker encouraged him to go out for it.
“Without Kathy Walker, I just would not be where I am,” he said.
Walker, for her part, demurs when asked about her influence in bringing advanced machinist training to Eastern Kentucky.
Walker, an experienced worker coming from a background in the mining industry and later banking, said she set out more than five years ago to find solutions for the downturn in the coal industry.
“What would make sense? It has to be something that fits the culture, the workforce, and the location,” Walker said.
That culture and workforce coming from the mining industry brought with it a willingness to work, a willingness to learn, and skills operating machinery and solving problems. CNC machining, then, was the perfect fit.
Walker said it was the partnership with Gene Haas that gave eKAMI its instant credibility for workforce recruiters. Haas developed his own line of CNC machine tools, and has put his expertise to work in NASCAR and Formula 1.
In NASCAR, Stewart-Haas racing fields Ford Performance engines, just like those produced by Roush-Yates. That relationship got Parker Hall’s foot in the door, and from there, he was hired to work in Roush-Yates’ other enterprises, which include roles in the aerospace and defense sectors.
“Our certifications mean that we have higher expectations (at Roush-Yates),” Hall said. “It’s a lot more of a 21st century outfit—the machine shops of the future are not dim, dirty rooms full of people slaving over mills and lathes. They’re clean, well-put-together and well-lit.”
That focus means Roush-Yates is unafraid to tackle jobs requiring very high precision. But Hall said his favorite part of coming to work is being a part of such an outstanding team.
“Frankly, it’s humbling to be able to pick so many expert brains. If I have questions, someone has answers,” Hall said.
Without a day in a college classroom, the journey to an amazing career has been surprisingly short for Hall, but he said he may one day go back to earn degrees in manufacturing for his own sake.
“I just want to say, eKAMI has been something very special,” Hall said. “If you asked me in high school if I thought I’d be going to work for Roush-Yates, I’d have said you’re crazy.”