Q&A with Casandra Blassingame

April 21, 2017

Director of Education
American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA)


Tell us about your role at AGMA.

My role as AGMA’s director of education is to be responsive to the needs of our member companies by way of workforce education from basic to advanced levels. I achieve this through collaborative efforts with our instructors, industry professionals, member companies, board members, our engaged education committee, and through various AGMA events.

Describe how AGMA courses build from beginner to advanced.

A good starting point is the Workforce Training Series, which includes three courses. These are online and self-directed and provide a foundation to the gear manufacturing process. And they build on each other. The Fundamentals of Gearing gives a comprehensive overview and introduces nomenclature. Next, the hobbing course gets into machine operating, and the parallel gear analysis course covers inspection. It’s a well-rounded educational experience for anyone interested in gaining knowledge or entering the workforce.

“Basic Training for Gear Manufacturing” would be the next step from the Workforce Training Series, and the new “Fundamentals of Gear Design and Analysis” course taught by Mark McVea would be a great next course to take. We are moving in a direction that fills in the gaps before people get to the advance courses that are more specific to design, failure analysis, gearbox design, and materials. We have a new materials course for 2017, “Steels for Gear Applications,” taught by Lily Kamjou with Ovako.

How does AGMA select course topics?

It’s a multifaceted approach. We conduct course evaluations at the end of each class. Sometimes the recommended topics are full courses, and sometimes they can be embedded into a current course. Another way we come up with topics is through a newly established instructor council. We have some phenomenally talented instructors — experts in this industry with a range of experiences in various areas of gear manufacturing. The evaluations and conversations with the instructor council go to the education committee, and we prioritize in terms of where we are and what we’re missing. And we do our own gap analysis using our skill assessment tool to come up with courses that would enhance the education program at AGMA.

In AGMA’s basic training, what are the benefits to learning on manual machines?

This enables the students to understand the process behind the manufacturing of quality gear parts. It’s a hands-on opportunity to participate in the design process. We have a range of individuals who attend this course, not only operators, but also salespeople, engineers, and designers. For the salesperson, it gives them a better understanding of what their customer is asking for and how to better convey that message to the engineer, which helps them be a better salesperson. And then you have design engineers. In order for them to become better designers, having that hands-on experience allows them to aesthetically participate, so when they are going to design, they think back to what it was like when they were actually doing the cutting of the gears. Because most employers do their own in-house training on CNC machines, having that manual, foundational knowledge is easily transferred when they go into a shop with CNC equipment.

What’s planned for AGMA’s webinars?

In 2017, we will have five new webinars that will be presented between May and September. They will be about 90 minutes each on hot topics, such as emerging technologies, and other topics people are interested in. Sometimes, webinars can be turned into full courses. So they could be seen as what’s coming next by way of courses in the following year. Our ability to provide these webinars as a member benefit is the result of a grant that we wrote to the AGMA Foundation. We are extremely grateful for them in funding our initiatives to develop some of our courses.

How do companies benefit from sending employees to attend courses?

Employers believe in what we are offering, and it’s evident in our enrollment. I have not seen a course cancelled. They are well-received and typically fill close to capacity. The conversations I have with leaders and supervisors within these companies are very positive. They see that we are adding value to membership. So when an employer believes in something, they’ll support that. I make sure that we are offering quality and much-needed educational experiences so people can take that back to the workplace and put it into practice.

In addition to the knowledge gained by attending the courses, the opportunity to network and develop relationships are added benefits. We receive positive feedback from students, thanking us for structuring the programs so that they can connect with their peers, as well as have conversations behind the classroom.

Tell us about the AGMA scholarship program.

The scholarship program is nothing short of phenomenal. It gives students an opportunity to pursue a career in gear manufacturing. In 2016, there were 21 applications. And as a result of data collected on the scholarship recipients, it was found that 86 percent of scholarship recipients are actively engaged in careers in gear manufacturing. Many recipients are even participating in internships with member companies. Through the AGMA Foundation providing these educational and financial opportunities for students, it benefits the gear industry and our members.

What are future AGMA education initiatives?

As part of AGMA’s Strategic Plan, there are several ongoing initiatives in the education department: instructor recruitment and succession planning and developing new topics and at least two new courses a year. We are also expanding education partnerships with workforce development. We have a longstanding relationship with Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, and we are in talks to expand that partnership, which could mean some co-curriculum development and getting involved in the workforce initiative in the Chicago area, where we have many member companies. We’re also working on a partnership with Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, as they have very robust advanced manufacturing programs. Developing these partnerships gives our members access to a qualified, trained workforce. And it’s a way to spread the word about careers in gear manufacturing. 

For more information, go to www.agma.org.