Valley News – Randolph entrepreneur teaches manufacturing tech to teens

When Brian Kippen decided to open an East Randolph location for his company, KAD Models and Prototypes, he was excited about its proximity to Vermont Technical College and the Randolph Technical Career Center.

Three years later, he now teaches advanced manufacturing to high school students in downtown Randolph in an effort to introduce students to the field and educate the next generation of skilled workers.

“I believe my work here will probably be more profitable in the long run than making parts for companies,” said Kippen, whose company designs and builds prototypes for products and components. “It will take someone to replace me.”

Kippen, 39, estimates that 90 percent of Vermont manufacturing companies are looking to expand their workforce. He hopes that by introducing young people to advanced manufacturing, he can show that work that was once considered “dirty, dark and dangerous” is now a well-paid and highly skilled field of technology.

Kippen, a graduate of South Royalton High School, founded KAD Models in 2012 in Alameda, California, working on prototypes for companies such as Google, Tesla and Camelbak. The company expanded to East Randolph in 2019. Kippen said adding the Vermont location has doubled his workforce and revenue and opened his eyes to the world of manufacturing in the Green Mountain State.

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“New England is actually doing more manufacturing than I expected,” he said, “but the whole state of Vermont needs people (to work) in manufacturing.

So this year, Kippen began teaching manufacturing and fabrication at Randolph’s Technical Career Center. He has retained his role as CEO, but has stepped down from most of the day-to-day operations of KAD Models. Part of that decision had to do with the role Vermont’s public education system played in his life.

“People may say Vermont isn’t the most business-friendly because of X, Y and Z,” Kippen said, “but I see the benefits of being in Vermont. I was a public school kid, even though I say I was a D student; I had great, influential teachers You don’t get great things without paying for them in some way.

Kippen, who splits his time between Tunbridge and Berkeley, California, currently has 10 students whom he teaches skills ranging from welding to manufacturing and mechatronics, a branch of engineering that includes mechanics, electrical and electronics. He has helped improve the program’s computers, received a grant to purchase new production equipment, and will begin teaching computer-aided machining.

Vermont has 17 career technical education centers, 14 of which teach manufacturing, advanced manufacturing or engineering. This year, nine of them have new instructors, according to Chris Gray, who teaches advanced manufacturing and engineering at River Valley Technical Center in Springfield, Vt.

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“It’s not 60-year-old guys like me,” Gray joked. “These are young people … coming from the industry with wide eyes.”

Gray said some career centers had manufacturing teacher positions that had been vacant for two years. It’s exciting to have a new crop of instructors.

A 10-minute drive from KAD Models, Barry Hulce is helping establish the Vermont Manufacturing Cooperative at Vermont Technical College. The new Advanced Manufacturing Center is a public-private partnership that gives students the opportunity to work on real-world projects for businesses.

The goal, Hulce explained, is to make advanced manufacturing training and equipment available to both Vermont students and businesses.

Hulce said there is a “recycling” of skilled workers between companies in Vermont. In order for companies to grow, the workforce must also grow.

One way the manufacturing co-op hopes to solve this problem is through an industry project program that allows students to work on projects for companies, giving them a glimpse of what a career in advanced manufacturing would look like.

“We have a big line of businesses that need work,” Hulce said. “They can’t do it internally because they don’t have the resources. By engaging students in real-world projects, important work is accomplished while training the workforce of the future.

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Students take the lead, sometimes communicating directly with the client, participating in regular progress updates and getting paid for their work, Hulce explained. Once the project is complete, Hulce sends the student’s resume to the client to help facilitate recruitment.

“All of the manufacturing and mechanical technology programs have 100% placement, and anyone who applies usually has an offer” well before graduation, Hulce said. “These programs are really well known for the ability of the students because they get so much hands-on learning and complete real-world projects.”

Hulce said Kippen has been instrumental in the collaboration, helping to train some of the center’s engineers and offering industry insights. It’s all part of Kippen’s larger philosophy about manufacturing in Vermont: A rising tide lifts all boats.

“For us to become any kind of manufacturing country again, we have to work together. We have to try to make sure that businesses don’t go out of business because they can’t find people to work,” Kippen said. “That’s why I took the position of an educator. You want to say, “This is what is available and this is what can be done with it. And maybe you don’t need a college education to do well. “


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