A Danville woman in her 40s who grew up on a tobacco farm and spent most of her career in behavioral health. A former Navy Corpsman father and his 22-year-old daughter from California. Two active-duty Marines stationed out of San Diego and a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer who spent most of his first 12 years of service at sea.
These are just a few of the students enrolled in the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing (ATDM) program’s sixth cohort. This growing prototype program housed at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville provides the skills and certifications for adult learners to immediately enter the submarine and defense industrial base – the system of companies that produces parts and equipment for the U.S. military.
The program brings a diverse group of students to Danville to develop the skills needed for a quality career bolstering our country’s defense. Students have come from 26 states, range from age 17 to 50s, and bring a wide range of previous career experience. Boasting an 86% graduation rate, the program takes these learners and prepares them for meaningful careers. Approximately 75% of graduates so far have gone on to work directly in the defense and submarine industrial base.
|ATDM prepares adult learners for manufacturing careers that support the United States military.||Students from dozens of states with various career backgrounds are completing the accelerated, four-month training.||The program currently offers five tracks: welding, non–destructive testing (NDT), quality control inspection (metrology), additive manufacturing and CNC machining.||By 2025, 800-1,000 students will graduate annually. Each of the five tracks will be offered across three shifts.|
“We’ve had a retired schoolteacher, a chef who worked at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, active-duty military, veterans and a host of other backgrounds and career experiences. We see everything from companies sending their employees here for upskilling to people with no experience whatsoever in manufacturing and everyone in between. What they all have in common is a willingness to learn in a rigorous environment.” – ATDM Director Dr. Debra Holley
Non-destructive Testing: A Family Affair
Greg Williams is a Navy Veteran who spent 13 years in active duty, concluding his service as an Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman. After moving with his family from California to Durham, N.C., in 2022, Williams was interested in a new career path.
“I spent the first half of my life focusing on medicine. To do a shift into something mechanical and something on the manufacturing side, I thought it would be a good challenge,” Williams said.
A January 2023 email from the Wounded Warrior project included some information about the ATDM program. The program immediately caught Williams’ eye, and he reached out to ATDM staff within a few days.
But he was not just interested in the program for himself. More than 2,600 miles away in Pullman, Wash., Williams’ daughter Lilly Concepcion, 22, was living on her own for the first time, working as a barista.
“I was trying to scrape together enough money as I possibly could to survive on my own, and it just wasn’t cutting it,” Concepcion said. “When my dad told me about ATDM, I was definitely very intrigued to think that maybe I could start a career path that would take me further.”
Today, the pair have completed more than a third of the non-destructive testing track in the ATDM program, often studying and spending time together outside of class. With housing in Danville’s River District provided to students as part of the program, Williams’ wife and two sons are also here while he completes the program.
“It has been exciting to be able to learn a new process together. This is something neither of us had any experience in,” Williams said.
Non-destructive testing is an analysis technique that evaluates the properties of a material for characteristic differences or welding defects and discontinuities, all without causing damage.
Having already met with several companies and actively working with ATDM student support staff on her resume, Concepcion is confident that she will have a job opportunity lined up by the time she graduates in September.
“I would love to work on submarines in some way. At the end of this I just want to help out where I can in the industry.” – Lilly Concepcion, ATDM Non-Destructive Testing Student
“It’s definitely an exciting time to try to figure out where do we want to go next,” Williams said, noting that he is exploring different options and is not bound to any one location. “It’s not a matter of can I find a job, it’s going to be what’s most conducive for what I want.”
Looking for a New Career
Dana Lunsford has a long resume highlighted by stints in law enforcement before spending the bulk of the 2010s and early 2020s working in the Behavioral Health field focusing on the seriously mentally ill population as a Clinical Manager and Supervisor in Southern Virginia.
“As far as behavioral health is concerned, you name it, I pretty much did it here in Southern Virginia,” said Lunsford, who grew up on a local tobacco farm.
After a taxing, travel-filled year working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Lunsford began working with FedEx as a temporary stop while exploring next steps. With her children grown and exploring their adult lives, Lunsford was looking for a major career shift and was open to whatever that looked like.
“You are never too old to learn something new. I feel learning new things and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and taking on a challenge is very important for self-development and career growth.” – Dana Lunsford, Welding Student in ATDM Program
An internet search about programs in welding – a trade she had always been interested in learning more about– led her to ATDM, which immediately caught her attention.
Now several weeks into the welding track of ATDM, Lunsford is fascinated with the different welding types and applications she is learning. The program trains students like Lunsford to American Welding Society standards in 10 nationally recognized certifications.
Like Concepcion and Williams, Lunsford is already engaging with industry and working on her resume and is not bound to any one location.
“There are a lot of excellent career prospects out there,” she said. “We’ll see where it takes me.”
Upskilling the Military
Marine Corporal Ahgden Haversack and Sergeant Lionel Moss were hand selected by their seniors to participate in the Additive Manufacturing cohort of the ATDM program. Haversack had completed a U.S. Marine Corps additive manufacturing course and had done some 3D printing for aircraft while Moss had worked as a machinist for rotary aircraft parts. Both received some formal training but were still learning a lot on the job.
Today they are two of the 11 active-duty military participants in the additive manufacturing cohort of ATDM. While ATDM primarily develops the civilian workforce needed to produce equipment and parts, military personnel also benefit from having formal training.
“Invaluable” is how Haversack describes the rapid, hands-on learning and instruction ATDM provides. He says that this course is helping him to kick bad habits he may have developed and is providing him the foundational knowledge needed to improve and expand the way he manages operations in San Diego.
“I have all this knowledge that I didn’t have before,” he said. “The parts that I made that I thought were perfect before I got here might not be perfect now because I have a higher standard. I can produce a better product and give the military a better product.”
Having Marines like Haversack and Moss be able to create more parts themselves will save the military time and money.
“We’re hitting this thing at both ends now,” Moss said. “Any time there’s a problem, it’s either we can 3D print it or we can machine it out of metal and get that bird back in the air.”
Haversack and Moss are the most experienced students in the cohort, which allows them to rebuild and expand their knowledge while also helping others in the class. One of the students they have worked with is Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Zlocki, a Coast Guard electrician who spent most of his career wiring ships and other infrastructure. Upon his completion of the program, Zlocki will be standing up an additive manufacturing facility for the Coast Guard in New Orleans.
“When I go back, I can more effectively use the training I’m getting here to train others and manufacture parts,” Zlocki said.