By LYDIA BERGLAR
Ashley Elliott has worked at Trenton Pressing since 2017, back when it was still Gill Industries. Learning new skills and receiving promotions eventually opened the door for her to compete at the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference. On June 19-26, she was in Atlanta showcasing her CNC (computer numerical control) machining skills.
Elliott grew up in Chattanooga Valley, and she has lived in Trenton for several years. Her brother worked at Gill Industries and first connected her to the job. “I started out as a stacker at the end of the press,” she recalled. “I worked my way up to an operator and then die setter, basically setting up the presses to run.”
Around this time, Trenton Pressing bought the company. When the company posted an apprenticeship position in the tooling department, Elliott applied for it and was hired. She also signed up for classes at Georgia Northwestern Technical College and will graduate next semester.
Elliott reflected on her career path, saying, “At first, I didn’t have an idea for my career path, but being an operator, I ran the press that ran the dies. Every time something would break, I would get the tooling people and they would fix it. I thought that was cool, and I wanted to be able to fix it myself. I got to watching them and got interested in it and just ran with it.”
At Georgia Northwestern, she’s learning how to use lathes and mills, how the dies work, and how to fix them when they break. This is where she heard about the competition.
“My machining instructor asked if anybody would be interested in participating in the state competition. No one else was, so I said I’d do it, and I actually won the state competition about three months ago.” Winning state qualified her for the national competition.
Elliott was impressed by the size and variety of the national conference. She said, “There was everything from cosmetology to culinary arts to electricians and carpenters. They call it a techspo [technology expo] with all the new technology in every field and skilled trade you could think of.”
One of her favorite things about the competition was seeing and learning about the new technology.
Elliott explained the purpose of the convention and competition, saying, “It’s to make connections in your industry, to learn more about how much further you can go with it, to showcase to other people, and to get more people interested in the skilled trades.”
When asked if the convention inspired new career ideas, Elliott said, “I’m gonna run with what I’ve got for a while and get more comfortable doing what I’m doing. That way, I can really be good at what I do. Maybe one day I can be the tooling supervisor or start my own CNC side business.”
Regarding the CNC machining competition, she said, “They gave us blueprints and gave us four hours to write the CNC program. They ran the program to make the part. The next day, we took three 30-minute exams and one 15-minute job interview.”
While Elliott didn’t win the competition, she earned a certificate for successful completion. She’ll be receiving her scores/results in the coming weeks.
Speaking on behalf of Trenton Pressing, Mandy Whitehead of the HR office said, “Ashley’s amazing. We love having her here, and we’re so proud of her.”
Elliot enjoys the challenge that comes with the trade, and when speaking with her, her humility, work ethic, and desire to learn is quickly apparent. She said, “There’s a lot you have to learn to be able to precisely machine something to within less than a human hair’s accuracy. Fixing something or finishing with a perfect product–you know that you did that, and it’s really rewarding.”
She continued, “I’ve heard that Trenton Pressing will be getting some more CNC stuff, and I’m thinking that’ll make some more opportunities for more machinists to come in and learn. Maybe I can be a part of that, helping them learn. Most people don’t even know what a machinist is, and that’s a problem: If they don’t know what it is, how can they know that they want to learn it?”