SANFORD - So many misunderstandings about manufacturing get tossed around that sometimes Cathy Swindell feels like she's swimming against the tide.
As Director of Industry Services for Central Carolina Community College, she works with local industry day in and day out to help them meet the challenges they face -- whether it's staffing or skills. She knows the nuts and bolts of the business as well as anyone and gets frustrated when she hears people argue that American manufacturing is disappearing.
She knows it's not. In fact, an economist in the New York Times reported this summer that domestic manufacturers are now operating at their historical peak -- producing 47 percent more than they did 20 years ago.
So why do things seem so bleak?
A lot of it is due to a shifting job market. Technology has transformed manufacturing, and the new environment requires a new kind of worker. The kind of jobs that relied on lower, entry-level skills are disappearing. They're being replaced by jobs requiring higher skills.
The state of manufacturing all depends on how you want to look at it.
On one hand, it's true that some people without in-demand, technical skills can have trouble finding work. On the other hand, many companies are struggling to fill all of the more-complex jobs that have been created -- especially with baby boomers retiring and generations just behind moving from entry-level work into management or specialized positions.
The good news: Those new jobs pay quite a bit more and offer a brighter future.
The key to landing work is getting "skilled up," as Swindell puts it. Getting the basic expertise required for the skilled trades in high demand. Learning how to operate computers and spreadsheets. Becoming effective writers and presenters. Learning to repair complex equipment. Performing skilled trades jobs: maintenance, welding, machining.
And that's where Central Carolina Community College steps in.
Helping People Find Rewarding Careers
When many colleges were reassessing or even eliminating vocational training, CCCC resisted the trend. "One thing this college never did was get rid of the kind of vocational training that companies need now," Swindell says. "That means we've been able to respond quickly to help workers who want to prepare for those emerging jobs."
People have been flocking to curriculum programs in many high-demand areas, such as Computer Integrated Machining; Tool, Die and Mold Making; Industrial Systems Technology, and Electronics Engineering Technology. In fact, many of those curriculum programs -- educational pathways that offer certificates, diplomas, and degrees -- are completely filled.
"They're not just full," Swindell says. "A lot of those students are hired before they even finish their certificate or degree."
For others who want to acquire some additional skills, but aren't quite ready to commit to an entirely new path, CCCC provides a range of continuing education offerings -- and many of them are brand new. The college has recently introduced several continuing education courses and has been pursuing grants to expand the number of classes and options available.
"We're even working to create pathways from continuing education courses to our curriculum programs," Swindell says. "We're always looking to develop new opportunities based on what needs are out there in industry. We're building new programs quickly, designing short courses and marketing them to help people get where they want to be."
Helping Industry Adapt to Change
CCCC isn't just focusing on individual workers needing new skills. Swindell and Industry Services Assistant Pamela Fincher also have been working the other side of the employment equation -- helping companies that contract with the college for customized training target the skills their employees need to succeed. Not just now, but for what is just emerging on the horizon.
Based on what she's hearing from industry, many of those areas reflect recent expansion in the curriculum programs: Companies need people who can produce parts and fix machines -- and it's not just in manufacturing, but in construction trades as well. They need employees who understand strategic planning and can operate computers.
"Computer affects everything now, even on the shop floor," Swindell says. "You used to write everything down for quality management, but now you have an iPad or computer and you type in quality assessment results. Computers are the way you do inventory, maintenance, and work orders. You simply need those skills to succeed."
Industry has been transforming for decades -- and not just in the kind of raw skills workers need. Contemporary manufacturing facilities now feature bright and comfortable environments with the latest technology. Companies have been going green -- reducing their environmental footprint and finding innovative ways to reuse, recycle, and reduce waste.
And then, Swindell mentions an entire group of popular careers that have little to do with vocational education, but offer increasing opportunity -- even for millennials who may never have considered manufacturing.
"Do you want to be a manager? Do you want to be in sales? Do you want to be an accountant?" she asks. "If you can come up with a career path, you can probably find that niche in manufacturing. It's a very attractive place to work, and we're here to help people get there."
For more information on Central Carolina Community College, visit the website www.cccc.edu.
National Manufacturing Day
Central Carolina Community College Innovation Center will participate in National Manufacturing Day on Friday, Oct. 7.
An open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center, 5825 Clyde Rhyne Drive, Sanford. Closed toe shoes are required.
Manufacturing Day has been designed to expand knowledge about and improve general public perception of manufacturing careers and manufacturing's value to the economy.
For more information on Manufacturing Day festivities at The Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center, or to schedule your group's visit, contact Pamela Fincher at 919-718-7490.
Pamela Fincher (left) and Cathy Swindell, of Central Carolina Community College's Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Innovation Center, look forward to hosting 2016 National Manufacturing Day festivities.