SANFORD — Despite lingering myths about the demise of manufacturing, business is booming and companies all over North Carolina and beyond are struggling to find enough workers to keep assembly lines moving.
High school students learned about career opportunities at Manufacturing Day, a showcase for local industry held Oct. 5 at Central Carolina Community College’s Howard-James Industry Training Center.
CCCC’s event and another less than 1 mile away at Mertek Solutions were part of the sixth annual Manufacturing Day, produced throughout North America by the National Association of Manufacturers to help people understand how contemporary manufacturing works.
About 2,600 events were scheduled nationwide, according to the association’s website, with 67 listed in North Carolina.
First to arrive were about 40 students from Southern Lee High School’s Academy of Engineering, who began their 90-minute tour in a lab where they learned about maintaining hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical controls.
Then students moved through four more stations. They learned about the tools and processes used to assemble complex products. They learned how to operate a forklift. They saw how companies like Caterpillar improve operations and eliminate manufacturing waste by conducting training exercises on an assembly line that simulates the work environment.
Also along the way, they landed in the welding shop — always a popular stop — where a few tried their hands on the high-tech welding simulator used to train skilled workers in one of those trades trying to draw more talent.
Martin Bryant, who directs Southern Lee’s Academy of Engineering, brings ninth- and 10th-graders who have just entered the academy each year to show them what opportunities are available locally and how those tie into educational and career paths they can take after graduating from the academy.
That point wasn’t lost on Kirsten Rosser. The freshman at Southern Lee has an interest in aerospace engineering and appreciated the welcoming environment and opportunity to see what you go through on the path to a career. “It gives you more insight into what you can do,” she said. “It was a really cool experience.”
Not everything was quite that serious.
One large room of the training center was lined with manufacturing companies handing out plastic tumblers, bite-size candy and product samples. Jaimee Chavis-Handsborough from Pilgrim’s said her company came to Manufacturing Day for the first time to let visitors know about the company and to highlight the broad range of jobs available.
Product samples from a chicken company might be unexpected. But Pilgrim’s had that covered, too. QA Manager Russell Dillard was just outside a back door, under a tent, frying chicken for everyone to try. “We want people to be able to see and taste our product,” Chavis-Handsborough said.
And then there was something brand new: A selfie station where students paused to take pictures and send out over social media. CCCC Director of Industry Services Cathy Swindell, an event organizer, said the idea was to give students a fun activity and maybe get some information out about manufacturing. A lunch for vendors and staff was provided by SAGA, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.
Before it ended, about 300 students from the Lee, Chatham, Harnett and Cumberland county school districts passed through during the five-hour open house, an event that attracted some private and home school groups as well.
The other major Manufacturing Day event was at Mertek Solutions, a Sanford company that designs and builds automated machinery for manufacturing plants. In fact, Mertek was the first organization in the region to participate in the annual showcase and shuts down its operations each year to welcome guests and give them the chance to see interactive robotic cells at work and demonstrations of advanced technologies like 3D printing and design.
Mr. Swindell hopes Manufacturing Day captures the imagination of young people because a vibrant industrial sector is important for everyone. For workers, jobs in industry pay well, she said, and employ people in everything from the assembly and automation that most people think about to support positions in sales, finance and management.
But being able to provide talent for the jobs companies are now struggling to fill is essential for the economic success of the entire region. “We have this severe shortage of people going into manufacturing as a career,” Ms. Swindell said. “While the pool is shrinking, the need is growing, specially in the skilled trades.
“A lot of high schoolers do not know what the options are — or that almost anything they could want to do, they can do it in manufacturing. That’s why this is important.”
For event information about CCCC Industry Services, contact Cathy Swindell at 919-718-7212 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Central Carolina Community College, visit www.cccc.edu.