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Perspectives on Manufacturing Skill Development – Part 3: From ‘Mythbusters’ to Hands-On Honing

TechShop founder Jim Newton enjoyed access to fully equipped machine shops when he worked as a science adviser to the television show "Mythbusters." But when his career path changed, he discovered there was a need for a "Kinko's for geeks."

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This is part three of a three part series on manufacturing skill development. Click here for part 1 and part 2.

When TechShop founder Jim Newton worked as a science adviser to the television show “Mythbusters,” he relished the opportunity to utilize the set’s machine shops to tinker. Newton, also a robotics instructor at a junior college, found the set’s and the school’s facilities were beneficial in bringing new product ideas to life, purely by providing access to hard-to-find tools and equipment. But when a shift in his career path took him back to the software field, he lost access to the spaces he’d grown so reliant on and this challenge planted the early seeds for TechShop.

Fast forward ten years, and there are a dozen TechShop locations – including ones in Paris and Dubai – fulfilling the need that Newton found so critical. For a monthly or annual fee, members can reserve and use TechShop's tools upon successful completion of equipment-specific Safety and Basic Use (SBU) classes. Dubbed by company leadership as a sort of “Kinko’s for geeks,” TechShop offers a full time staff, available to help users develop ideas and improve technical skills.

According to TechShop CEO Mark Hatch, Newton’s idea has assisted thousands of people in realizing their dreams in a variety of areas. The members typically fall under one segment in what TechShop dubs ‘HEATS:’ hobbyists, entrepreneurs, artists, tinkerers and students. “Students fall into a wide range of categories, including those who are picking up skills that they can either use to help launch a business or get a job,” explains Hatch.

To help facilitate this skill development, each TechShop includes laser cutters, plastics and electronics labs, a machine shop, a wood shop, a metal working shop, a textiles department, welding stations and a waterjet cutter. Members have open access to design software, featuring the entire Autodesk Design Suite. Huge project areas with large work tables are available for completing projects and collaborating with others.

Bridging the Gap

Some folks find TechShop on their own, as they look to advance their skill sets in a collaborative setting without a lot of ramp-up time. Others find TechShop through their employers, who leverage the equipment and the educators for more formal on-the-job skill upgrades. TechShop has worked with such big names as Tesla, who has used TechShop’s San Jose location for CNC training for its employees. Additionally, “At our Pittsburgh location, we also do some union up-skilling and re-training,” says Hatch. “For folks that have come out of a machine shop industry but need to upgrade their skills to CNC, we run programs for them.”

The most fulfilling role for TechShop, according to Hatch, is when there is an alignment between jobs lost and tradespeople needed – and the only thing missing is the training. He recalls a situation in Pittsburgh, where there happened to be a machine shop that closed around the same time as a nearby facility was opening with waterjet cutting capabilities. TechShop was able to create some custom training for waterjet technology and run some people through it very rapidly, “so they immediately went from not having a job to having a job,” says Hatch. “It was awesome.”

Besides helping today’s workforce, TechShop also works to have a hand in influencing the workforce of tomorrow: Kids and young adults (12 to 17 years of age) can work on projects at TechShop under the direct supervision of a parent or legal guardian if they are included in a family membership, and many classes are open to them as well. Hatch says the most popular machine for any TechShop members is probably the laser cutter, because “it’s such an approachable machine. Within a few hours, you can actually be producing little projects. It’s helpful getting those first couple wins when you’re trying to expand your knowledge base.”

For more information on TechShop, visit

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