Upstate manufacturing professionals will soon have a new path to career success.
The University of South Carolina Upstate said Thursday it will introduce a new two-year baccalaureate program aimed at helping individuals who have earned their Associate of Applied Science degrees in mechatronics build on their skills.
Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field that combines electronics and mechanical engineering.
USC Upstate, based in Spartanburg, said the Bachelor of Applied Science degree in advanced manufacturing management’s objective is for graduates who have three to five years of manufacturing work experience to move into supervisory roles.
The program will be introduced when the fall semester begins on Aug. 24, and is offered through the university’s division of natural science and engineering.
“The program objectives will prepare graduates to assume organizational leadership roles, communicate with all levels of an organization, and solve complex problems that combine technical and nontechnical factors such as economics and societal impacts,” said Timothy Ellis, a USC Upstate instructor and the program’s coordinator.
Basically, the program will teach employees certain skills they typically don’t learn in associate degree programs, or while working on a manufacturing line.
The university said the curriculum includes 21 hours of major courses at USC Upstate, including manufacturing leadership I and II, manufacturing work practices, manufacturing quality, manufacturing project management, operational excellence, and senior seminar, which is similar to a thesis course.
Students will be required to take 15 hours of upper levels courses, including 12 hours in business administration or other related courses, and three hours of an elective.
Forty-two hours of mechatronics technical credits transferred from a technical college and 43 hours of general education courses taken at USC Upstate or transferred from another college are also required.
The maximum transfer credits allowable are 76 hours, according to the university.
USC Upstate said the program has been in the works since 2016. It is the result of the university’s collaboration with Upstate technical colleges and manufacturing companies.
“Having highly skilled associates in mechatronics is important to the success of companies like BMW,” said Ryan Childers, department manager of student programs at Spartanburg County-based BMW Manufacturing Co. “However, solid leadership skills are also important. This degree will give technical professionals the tools to be more effective and have greater opportunity for advancement throughout their careers.”
Laine Mears, Clemson University’s BMW SmartState chair of automotive manufacturing, said he believes USC Upstate’s program will benefit not only Upstate residents and manufacturing associates but also the state’s efforts to attract economic development.
“I talk to a lot of industry folks,” Mears said. “No one is worried about technology. Their primary concern is not having qualified people. … Giving people some of those soft skills — mixing technical and nontechnical — is what we built [Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research] on. It’s important to understand where your decisions fit within an organization. The old story is that everyone needs a bachelor’s degree right away. But there are plenty of opportunities out there. … The more pathways there are, the easier it will be for people to find their sweet spot. And the better it will be for industry in the Upstate.”
Mears referenced a 2015 report by Deloitte Consulting and the Manufacturing Institute that forecasts nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2025. The study predicts at least 2 million of those jobs will be unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates.
“State schools have a duty to foster academic innovation to improve the economic climate,” Mears said. “The USC Upstate program is another splash of color in the painting we’re trying to create that will attract new industry to the region and South Carolina.”
Johnnie-Lynn Crosby, regional director of business solutions at SC Works Greenville and Upstate, said the program and others that might follow could attract more people to careers in manufacturing.
“I think it helps manufacturing in general, because it continues to chip away at that perception that manufacturing jobs are dirty and low-skill,” Crosby said. “That’s not the case anymore. There are plenty of opportunities out there.”
State Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg, and director of economic development for Spartanburg Community College, said he believes the program will help Spartanburg County reach its 40/30 Challenge goal.
The challenge seeks to have 40 percent of the county’s population age 25 and older earn a baccalaureate degree by the year 2030.
‘We’ve got enrollment right now of more than 350 students in mechatronics,” Forrester said. “The demand is high… What this does is it gives people a pathway they’ve never had before to get a four-year degree in manufacturing.”
He said many companies in the Upstate have education reimbursement plans in place. Students may also be able to take advantage of the state’s LIFE Scholarship program.
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