DOBSON — The underlying message for Surry County behind Surry Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Day is that manufacturing is on its way, back but it’s not your grandmother and grandfather’s old assembly line.
North Carolina Advanced Manufacturing Alliance Project Coordinator Bruce Shepherd introduced the speakers at a reception Tuesday evening capping a day of celebration of the college’s advanced manufacturing programs.
Shepherd outlined how $18.8 million in grant money from the alliance is helping ten community colleges across the state to bring back high tech manufacturing jobs. Shepherd told the group only 32 percent of high school graduates were enrolling in associate or certificate courses which would give them the skills for these advanced jobs which are predicted to account for 65 percent of new manufacturing jobs in North Carolina.
The alliance’s efforts are characterized as bringing manufacturing back “one hometown at a time.” He pointed out that grant money had allowed the school to rejuvenate some manufacturing technology programs which had languished at the school.
“It’s going to make a difference with our students,” said Shepherd. “We are so happy to have our business leaders here with us tonight. They are important to our efforts.”
SCC Director of Business and Industry Services Sam Brim briefly outlined the goals of the program at the college.
“Our first customer is business and industry and our second customer is students,” said Brim. “We are already receiving requests from businesses in Surry and Yadkin counties (for SCC students).”
He explained the curriculum would focus on listening to the needs of businesses and training students in skills to make them marketable to new companies as well as being able to advance and grow in existant businesses employing them. He said the college is working to supplement student training by adding internships.
“This is a win, win, win proposition,” continued Brim. “The community wins, the students win and the stakeholders (business and industry) win. We’ll have a pipeline of students to attract industry into our area.” Brim also stressed that industry is not only seeking students with the technical or “hard” skills but “soft” skills such as discipline, drive and being respectful.
He said respect breeds success and students with these soft skills usually become the leaders and mangers in businesses.
“What I learned from industry in our area is they need technicians for maintenance, electronics and machinist-operator technicians,” said Brim. “They are almost like doctors. These machines are like a non-human body. The pay is excellent for these jobs and there will be a huge demand for this in the next five years. Skilled workers make a huge difference.”
Surry County Economic Development Partnership Vice President LeeAnn Stokes told the participants she sees this demand for advanced manufacturing jobs as an opportunity for growth.
“The biggest challenge I hear from industry is about the skills gap,” said Stokes. “What we hear is we have job opportunities but can’t find the right people with the right attitude. I don’t know it’s all about a four-year degree anymore.”
Stokes, who has been with the partnership for four years, recalled being familiar with women, like her grandmother working in a hosiery mill. She admitted she was surprised when touring a modern hosiery mill years later.
“It took my breath,” said Stokes. “It was hard to see no rows of ladies knitting. There were neat lanes of machines with one person making sure the computer kept the machine running correctly. I told myself manufacturing has changed. The days of getting a job with no skills needed and making good money are gone. That’s not now. You have to skill up. The opportunity is there.”
Stokes listed 30 firms involved in manufacturing in Surry County and said this accounts for 14 percent of the area’s workforce. (The state’s percentage is 11.)
“I am so proud of our manufacturing here. I think manufacturing is coming back stronger and more diversified,” said Stokes. “We are doing more than surviving in Surry County we are thriving.”
Surry County Economic Development Partnership President Todd Tucker next spoke to the participants and told them he felt the county could expect to see smaller, middle sized companies and not the huge manufacturing firms of the past. He characterized the new firms as more nimble with more highly skilled employees.
“You still have to have that one skill but you’ll have to do a whole lot of other things,” explained Tucker. “These companies don’t have 100 workers anymore; They’ll have 50.” He said this trend is the same nationally.
“Manufacturing is coming back. It’s looking for those with drive, people who can look someone int he eye, shake their hand, speak well, show up for work and work well with people. You have to have all these qualities to even be considered for these positions. Things are changing. We have to learn to adapt and do it quickly. Welcome to a lifetime of continuous learning. It’s the way of the future.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.