Manufacturing Day reveals career potential to high school seniors

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David Clayton

By David Clayton
Executive director, Greenville Technical College’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation

“National study points to shortage of 3 million professional basketball players over next decade.”

That is a headline we will never see, but whenever I ask middle school students what they want to be when they grow up, professional athlete is the answer of nearly all the boys. The girls have more varied answers, but rarely much more realistic.

Who wouldn’t want to be a rich celebrity paid to play games?

When we host tours of Greenville Technical College’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation, especially with middle and high school students, I stress that it’s not an either-or proposition: Do what you love in your free time and start building the path to a career while at school.

To pique the students’ interest, I often compare our manufacturing tools to exotic sports cars. Racing counts as a pro sport, right? Both types of machines run fast, cost a small fortune, and you don’t hand the keys to just anyone. Seeing these high-performing machines in action attracts the interest of many students, while learning that the average salary in manufacturing for an associate degree holder is $67,000 attracts the interest of parents.

During the past year, we’ve hosted thousands of visitors to CMI, and on Oct. 5, we will open our doors again to hundreds of Greenville County high school seniors for Manufacturing Day 2018, held in partnership with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and Greenville County Schools.

Manufacturing Day gives students a chance to see the clean, modern learning environment of Greenville Tech’s CMI and tour one of a dozen local manufacturing facilities. At CMI, students will see lasers that can cut, melt, and measure; 16 industrial robots; 10 3D printers; 12 metal machining centers; and all the latest software and tools to make these machines run. Most importantly, students will have the opportunity to meet faculty and prospective employers to learn about career and educational pathways.

Due to strong employer demand for graduates, enrollment in our industrial programs has grown by more than 10 percent annually since opening CMI two years ago. So why do we continue to invest resources in outreach, hosting events like Manufacturing Day? The answer is that there is no better time than now to start a career in manufacturing, where jobs are plentiful, wages are rising faster than the county average, and employers are lining up to help students pay for school through programs like apprenticeships and internships. Our plan to begin offering a four-year degree in advanced manufacturing technology next fall makes this the best time. Once all approvals have been received and that degree is in place, students will be able to move seamlessly from our manufacturing associate degree programs into an applied bachelor’s degree program.

Although the focus of our Manufacturing Day event is on high school students, the average age of students in our programs is 26. Greenville Tech can attract both students starting out in their careers and others further along in their journey because our programs are flexible in many ways. Classes run from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. at CMI, allowing students to schedule around work and family. Through a prior learning assessment, students can exempt classes for material they already know, helping them expedite their education. Working with Clemson University and local industry partners, our students have the opportunity to conduct research and development projects, giving them real-world experience. Finally, with more than a dozen certificates and degree programs of study in advanced manufacturing, students have the flexibility to study subjects that are most interesting and career-relevant to them.

While Manufacturing Day is only one day in October, there is never a bad time to invest in higher education and begin a career in Greenville’s vibrant manufacturing economy. Students can begin at the start of any semester — spring, summer, or fall — and be two years away from a great career with pathways to technical leadership and operations management.

Interested students or parents in Greenville County high schools should contact their school counselors to sign up for the Manufacturing Day activities on Oct. 5. Families are also invited to Community Fest on our Barton Campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 6 where they’ll see high-tech, advanced manufacturing tools in action, including 3D printers and robotics, as they enjoy a fun day of hands-on learning.

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