The Next Frontier Advanced Manufacturing Institute (NFAMI) – which provides tuition-free rapid workforce training for Veterans and Armed Forces personnel transitioning out of service as well as their spouses and adult children up to age 25 – has moved beyond the pilot year of its Operation Next Montana program to become an ongoing endeavor.

Nearly 30 students are pursuing nationally recognized, advanced manufacturing and welding certifications in the recently started spring semester, according to Ben Kohler, who leads the program while serving as Director of Strategic Innovation with Universal Achemetal Titanium, LLC (UAT), UTRS’s Montana-based titanium initiative.

NFAMI / Operation Next program partners include UAT, Highlands College of Montana Tech University, and Accelerate Montana. In the first two semesters of the program, 49 students earned 75 certifications at Highlands College.

While some participants are eyeing the program to improve their chances of landing a job, others are seeking to earn pay increases with their current employer or building the skills to run their own businesses.

Operation Next has resonated with Veterans groups and networks across Montana, becoming well connected so it can direct our students to more resources.

“There’s just a whole family of networks that we’re part of now and we fill a niche they need and haven’t had until now,” Kohler said. “In Montana we have a huge population of Veterans, about 1 in 10. Veterans have higher rates of unemployment and they struggle more, especially combat Veterans, with suicide and other hurdles. So, for me, it’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of this and help carry on the proud UTRS tradition of serving Veterans.”

Last fall, Kohler received the 2023 LIFT Brilliance Award from LIFT, a public-private partnership supporting advanced manufacturing technology.


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