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Manufacturing program paying for its students

Published Monday, April 4, 2016
by Erin Kidd

Elvira Boger took the first step toward securing a job in manufacturing when she signed up for the free Certified Production Technician program with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. She had been working at a desk job for six years and was ready to find a rewarding full-time position.

“I was stuck in an office sitting at a computer for six years. I was looking for a full-time job and couldn’t find one,” Boger said. “I looked into the program at the college and here I am eight months later.”

When she says ‘here’ she means Perdue Farms in Concord working as a process technician. Boger secured her position at Perdue after graduating from the college’s first Certified Production Technician class that began in 2015.

“It is interesting and challenging. There is a lot to learn every day,” Boger said. “I’m not stuck behind a desk. I’m in motion most of the time. I feel good and I sleep better. There is a sense of accomplishment and I love it.”

Certified Production Technician Program

The college’s eight-week program is part of the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute initiative and allows graduates with little-to-no manufacturing experience to secure employment.

Even accounting for the recent layoffs at Freightliner, no industry in this area is creating jobs in larger numbers and growing faster than manufacturing. Local manufacturers like Perdue Farms, S&D Coffee and Agility Fuel Systems have partnered with the Rowan and Cabarrus chambers of commerce, economic development leaders and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to build a training program designed to prepare applicants for jobs in the high-tech and growing field of manufacturing.

“This program is for anyone who wants a quality job. It doesn’t matter what your background is, it matters what your future is,” said Craig Lamb, vice president of corporate and continuing education at Rowan-Cabarrus. “Our scholarship fund, financed by local employers, ensures that we can offer this training at no cost to the individual. They also plan to hire many of the graduates.”

Hiring managers from the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute partner companies are given the graduates’ resumes and are invited to the college campus to meet the graduates for a preliminary interview to kick-off their search for employment.

The instructor of the class is Stan Honeycutt, who worked at Norandal USA for 20 years. He said the class has four modules; safety, quality assurance, manufacturing practices and maintenance awareness.

“We are trying to give them fundamental skills so they can go to work in manufacturing,” Honeycutt said. “We want them to be an attractive candidate and go to work and not be surprised about the career.”

Students who want to participate in the program have to apply and go through the process to receive a career readiness certification along with drug-testing, because that is what an employer would require.

“I also try to replicate attendance demands they would have as manufacturing employees. They are required to be on time and learning how to follow instructions,” Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt said there is competition world-wide for products these days and there are plenty of stable and high-paying jobs available for the taking.

“I like to see anybody have a job. People need to work,” Honeycutt said. “Hopefully what we are producing are employees that can work safely and efficiently without direct supervision.”

Testimonies from students and employers

Wendy Kasper worked in retail for many years and was ready for something new. One of her family members saw an advertisement for the class in a newspaper and she decided to sign up.

“Retail is not what it used to be. There’s not much stability and not much of a chance for a career versus a job,” Kasper said. “Even if you have no experience with manufacturing whatsoever, you can come take this program and be prepared.”

Keith Nicholson, who also has a background in retail, said the whole process of the institute is brilliant and he joined the class because the growth in manufacturing is outstanding. He said he always liked putting things together and thought he could excel in a manufacturing career.

“Our economy needs a manufacturing workforce. The fact that programs like this exist, I think it’s amazing,” Nicholson said. “We are learning about quality processes and safety procedures and so many things I realize are important for day-to-day operations.”

He said being in the class helped him examine himself and find skills that are marketable.

“Mr. Honeycutt is really helpful. He talks about philosophy and the practicality of work, maximizing our pay check and continuous improvement in the company and yourself. It’s about trying to better yourself,” Nicholson said, “It’s really intriguing and helps you examine who you are.”

He is already trying to recruit others to participate in the program.

“I didn’t know it was going to be so great,” Nicholson said. “The more I can do to get people involved in this, the better.”

And students aren’t the only ones who are benefitting from the program. Since partnering companies have their first pick of graduates, it’s a win-win for everyone.

“They produce great, qualified candidates with the ability to focus on details. They also have better technology skills than others,” Craig Pyle, director of Operations at Perdue Farms, Inc., said. “It definitely helps prepare people for jobs in manufacturing. They learn about safety, technical skills and continuous improvement. We want people with the vision and willingness to change our processes for the better.”

As of January, 22 of the programs 27 graduates had secured full-time employment.

“We have many open positions now and we will continue the relationship with RCCC and interview graduates,” Pyle said.

Putting a stop to misconceptions

Employees like Boger are working to change misconceptions on manufacturing.

“People don’t understand what manufacturing is today. It’s modernized,” Boger said. “You need a brain to work in manufacturing. It’s not just muscle anymore.”

Boger’s mother worked in manufacturing when she was a child which led to some of her preconceptions.

“Manufacturing is not what I imagined it to be eight months ago. My mother worked in manufacturing for 30 years and I remember her coming home with burns,” Boger said. “In today’s manufacturing safety comes first. It is very automated and it’s like learning anything else, like a new smart-phone or coffee machine.”

Women like Boger and Kasper are also putting a stop to the idea that manufacturing is a man’s world.

“A lot of times women are the ones that are leading in the class. Back in the 1940s during the war, woman did the manufacturing and then we all went home. Today with what it costs to have a child, you have to have both parents working,” Kasper said.

And Boger said she learns a new skill each day in her position that show her the jobs can be done by men and women.

“I’m sure I have the skills for it. It’s not just men’s jobs,” Boger said. “With the facilities and equipment there is, why would a woman stand back and not try to do something like this?”

Anyone interested in taking the class can find more information and register at www.ncmanufacturinginstitute.com. For more information on Rowan-Cabarrus visit https://www.rccc.edu.

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