Brawn to Brains: A new era in manufacturing

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You may have heard that manufacturing jobs are a thing of the past. While it’s true that old-fashioned assembly line jobs are dwindling, a new kind of manufacturing job is starved for skilled workers. Demand is skyrocketing for workers who can run and maintain complex machines, robots and computer systems—such jobs are typically clean, steady and offer good pay.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, advanced manufacturing occupations grew by 99.4 percent between 2007 and 2012. In addition, Economic Modeling Specialists International projects that the American manufacturing sector will add 2.5 million new jobs by 2017.

Today, more than 60 percent of manufacturing employees have at least some college education, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some 302,000 manufacturing job openings were unfilled in 2014 because employers couldn’t find qualified workers. As a result, jobs such as machinists, equipment operators, welders and technicians remain open across the country.

“Today’s manufacturing jobs are not like the ones in your grandfather’s manufacturing plant,” said Ron Logreco, assistant dean at CCAC’s West Hills Center. “Workers need to be well educated. That requires advanced skills, and they can get those here.”

According to Logreco, industry leaders have a growing need for skilled workers who can program, manage and repair machines to replace the large number of retiring employees. They also want employees who have some experience, as well as education.

“We provide an opportunity for students to seek employment early and then continue to learn while they earn. It’s the best investment a student can make,” he said. “While you earn a degree, you’re also gaining experience and making good money.”

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Technicians

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

Students in CCAC’s Mechatronics Technology program, which integrates mechanics, electronics and control systems used in industry, receive a comprehensive education in electrical and mechanical processes and computer controls.

“They have all those advanced skills when they complete the program,” said Sylvia Elsayed, project manager of Mechatronics at CCAC. “That is what industry is looking for in today’s workers.”

CCAC_manufacturing_careersThe Techs, a Pittsburgh steel manufacturer, recently hired two CCAC graduates with production technician skills. In addition, two individuals already employed at the company were sent for mechatronics training, and upon return to the company were promoted from material handlers to maintenance qualified employees.

“Partnering with CCAC West Hills Center and the Mechatronics program has not only strengthened our incumbent employees’ knowledge and experience, but has given us the opportunity to recruit well-trained new employees that will excel in our industry,” said Janet Bruna, senior accountant, HR & Administration, at The Techs. “The program fills a void of skilled workers for us and other manufacturing companies in the region. We are not aware of any training program whose scope of curriculum targets industrial employees as well, especially at the cost that CCAC does.”

Trades

Other jobs in demand, such as HVAC and welding, require skilled workers who can perform intricate, custom work. Welders must learn a wide range of techniques for welding a variety of metals. HVAC technicians learn to install and service heating, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. Job prospects for both occupations are expected to be strong, growing faster than the national average in the coming years.

Logreco remarked that the welding industry is seeing extreme growth in the region due to the increasing demand for skilled workers in the energy sector. Many welders are pursuing careers in the booming Marcellus Shale natural gas industry, which is adding to the need for welders in fabrication shops.

“Workers need to be well educated. That requires advanced skills, and they can get those here.”
—Ron Logreco, assistant dean, CCAC West Hills Center.

Scott Metals, a metal fabricating company in Carnegie, Pa., that has experienced such a need, routinely recruits new welders from CCAC’s Welding Technology program. “I think CCAC does a very nice job teaching the basics, and they’re on track with what we’re doing,” said Lenny Klemencic, owner of the company.

Some of their CCAC recruits have been promoted to positions as fabricators or fitters who read blueprints and assemble the parts to be welded, requiring a higher level of expertise. “Overall, we’re very pleased with the quality of students,” Klemencic said. “CCAC’s definitely a good resource for us.”

Full-time students in CCAC’s Welding Technology program are able to become certified welders in one 16-week semester. The program fills up quickly and averages a 92 percent industry certification rate.

Important basics

Fundamentals such as mechanical aptitude, problem-solving skills, dependability and good communication are among the qualities taught in all skilled trade disciplines at CCAC.

“Students receive a solid foundation for jobs that are in demand in the Pittsburgh region,” said Logreco, who touts the fact that tuition at CCAC is typically 25 percent of what an average for-profit school charges. “We’re here to prepare individuals for a career,” he said. “Our students are usually debt free, and the instruction is second to none.”

For a complete list of skilled trades programs, go to: ccac.edu/trades.

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