SANFORD — High school students got a close-up look at how advanced manufacturing actually works when Central Carolina Community College held its annual Manufacturing Day celebration on Friday, Oct. 4.
Manufacturing Day was created by a coalition of industry groups seven years ago to celebrate modern manufacturing throughout North America and inspire the next generation of manufacturers. About 2,900 events were scheduled throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, including two in Lee County.
CCCC’s open house at The Dr. Paul Howard and Dr. Barbara James Industry Training Center — held not far from a companion event at Mertek Solutions — drew about 375 students from as far away as Fayetteville, along with more than a dozen area manufacturers, each one manning a booth highlighting the company and its products.
One group of about a dozen high schoolers was gathered behind a protective red curtain in the welding lab, watching though welding helmets as instructor Austin Smith demonstrated one technique used to join metal parts.
Most of the time, students were looking on with fascination as sparks sprayed from the welding table, but the demo can turn hands-on pretty quickly. “If someone is really interested,” Smith said, “we’ll get them suited up and let them try.” And many did. At one time, several rotated through as friends cheered them on.
In a larger room, industrial trainer Bob Jones gave everyone a look at the center’s Simulated Work Environment, a large production line used to train manufacturing workers. It was installed by Caterpillar, initially to develop its own employees, but now the simulation room is used by companies throughout the region.
At the same time, other high school groups were learning how to operate a forklift or getting an introduction to pneumatic and hydraulic systems.
CCCC Director of Industry Services Cathy Swindell, who works with local companies to train workers, said Manufacturing Day is a chance for students to understand that modern advanced manufacturing is not what it used to be — it’s now more focused on technology and driven by employees — and how it offers a potentially lucrative career path.
And for industry, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the kinds of skill sets needed for success on the job and tap into a young and enthusiastic potential workforce. “Companies understand the value of getting to these students and showing them how they can have a viable career in manufacturing no matter what they want to do,” she said.
As students clustered around the Magneti Marelli table spinning a small carnival wheel to win snacks and company swag, Craig Hardy was standing behind the next table talking about why he came from Pfizer to meet students at Manufacturing Day.
Pfizer is recruiting outstanding people eventually to work for the pharmaceutical operation in Sanford — and some are beginning that path right away. It’s part of a local initiative called “College 2 Colleague,” where current company employees identify talented students at colleges throughout the area and help bring them into the company. It’s a process, Hardy said, that could even include a paid internship while students are still in college.
Hardy attends all kinds of job fairs and educational events. But because he works so closely with CCCC and students attending Manufacturing Day already have some interest in industry, he thought this was a particularly important place to be.
Manufacturing Day enjoys broad support from industrial organizations of all kinds. One local leader welcoming busloads of high school students was Mike Peluso, who works with Triangle South Workforce Development Board, an organization strengthening the local workforce.
Peluso says he often hears employers, economic developers and governmental leaders talk about how important the annual event is to local industry’s success. “It’s helping us in developing a talent pipeline for advanced manufacturing,” he said.
Participating companies from Lee, Harnett and Chatham counties represented industries as diverse as cosmetics, food processing and robotic machines. In addition to Magneti Marelli and Pfizer were Arauco, Boon Edam, Caterpillar, Coty, Edelbrock, GKN Driveline, Mertek Solutions, Mountaire, Pentair, Pilgrim’s and STI Polymer.
Manufacturing Day is celebrated each year on the first Friday in October, though events in some locations are held on other dates in the early fall.
To learn more about Central Carolina Community College, visit www.cccc.edu.