Brawn to Brains Skills are the future of manufacturing

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If you think manufacturing jobs are a thing of the past, think again. While it’s true that old-fashioned assembly line jobs are dwindling, a new kind of manufacturing job is starved for skilled workers.

man_fac_career_salariesToday, more than 60 percent of manufacturing employees have at least some college education, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report. And a 2011 report from the Manufacturing Institute estimates that 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs are currently unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers.

As a result, jobs such as skilled machinists, equipment operators, welders, and technicians go begging.

Mitchell Sepaugh, who teaches in the industrial automation program at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, N.C., says automation is what is driving modern manufacturing. “We live in a push-button world, but automation is what makes pushing the button work,” he says. “There will always be a need for workers who can program, manage and repair devices.”


Some of the modern manufacturing jobs in demand are technical, such as CNC programmers, robotics technicians and industrial machinery mechanics. These workers are the brains behind the machines.

At Applied Manufacturing Technologies in Orion, Mich., a company that designs and programs automated equipment for manufacturers, 10 new employees with skills in computer-controlled manufacturing were hired just this year—and they would have hired 10 more if they had been available, says Diane Haig, the company’s chief knowledge officer.

These jobs typically require an associate degree that provides a foundation of computer or mechanical skills.


Others jobs in demand, such as machinists and welders, required skilled workers who can perform intricate, custom work.

In Saginaw, Mich., Merrill Technologies manufactures parts for the solar, wind, gas and oil drilling and defense industries. They routinely have openings for up to 20 CNC machinists they wish they could fill.

“We have had to turn work away in the past,” says co-owner Jeff Yackel. “We have machines sitting idle because we don’t have operators.”

Welders and machinist usually earn a Skills Certificate, Professional Certificate or associate degree to acquire the skills they need, all of which SFCC offers. Welders must learn a range of techniques for welding a variety of metals, and machinists learn to create and use CAD blueprints and operate lathes and milling machines to produce prototypes.

Important basics

Even entry-level jobs in advanced manufacturing are difficult to fill. In Mooresville, N.C., NGK Ceramics USA, a supplier of emission control equipment for auto and diesel manufacturers, anticipates hiring more than 80 employees for entry-level jobs, says J. Todd Alexander, director of administration.

Basics such as mechanical aptitude, problem-solving skills and good communication are among the qualities they’re seeking in candidates. As a result, community colleges like State Fair Community College have added new programs, some of which are offered in accelerated formats, to prepare students for these jobs. For a list of the manufacturing programs SFCC offers, see the story on page 6.

Laura Lyjak Crawford
with interviews provided by Cleveland Community College, Delta Community College, Mitchell Community College and Washtenaw Community College.


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