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CNC machines are the star of the modern factory floor.

Computer numerical control machines, known as CNC for short, use computers to control machine tools that perform factory tasks such as grinding or milling. The machines reflect the increasingly high-tech nature of manufacturing, a step up from manually operated machines of the past.

On Erie Community College’s North Campus in Amherst, the college’s CNC program has hit a sweet spot in the local economy. Six students enrolled in 2003. This year, there were 100 graduates.

Students who complete the program have 100 percent job placement, said Nathan Witkowski, program chairman and professor of industrial technology.

Witkowski estimated that the 85 students who start the program this month will finish the one-year certificate program by the end of 2014, ready to enter the workforce. Some students will follow up with a second year of education to earn an associate degree, sometimes on a part-time basis after they get a job.

Graduates have jobs making pacemakers at Greatbatch, aerospace parts at Moog Inc. and even custom mouth guards for orthodontists.

“There’s just such a wide variety of places to work,” Witkowski said. “It’s an amazing list of things that are still made here that nobody even knows.”

ECC revamped its Industrial Technology Department and focused on machining about a decade ago, when ECC got $750,000 worth of money and equipment from the closing of the Metalworking Institute of Western New York.

Witkowski said enrollment in the ECC program has surged as local manufacturers expand, creating new opportunities for workers. And a “graying” manufacturing workforce has opened the door for younger people to replace retiring workers.

“There’s no one in the pipeline to fill their spots,” Witkowski said.

The promise of an immediate job paying $12 or $15 an hour to start and plentiful options for local work appealed to brothers Michael and Pat Badaszewski, both returning Marine veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

The brothers didn’t finish their one-year certificate until last month, but they both had jobs in August.

“It’s great,” Michael said. “It’s kind of a mental challenge.”

– Michelle Kearns and Matt Glynn, News staff reporters