Changing a job's image

A county consortium wants to make manufacturing positions more appealing to students

June 24, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The newly formed Carroll County Manufacturing Consortium is trying to change the image of manufacturing jobs by expanding college credit for on-the-job and online training in machine technology while encouraging more students to enter the field.

Representatives from numerous companies in the county, including the Fairlawn Tool & Die Co. in Hampstead and Flowserve Pump Division in Taneytown, have scheduled a meeting Aug. 2 with staffers from Carroll Community College, the public school system and the county Department of Economic Development.

Their goal: to rebrand manufacturing so that young workers realize the field no longer means manual labor in a dingy, cluttered plant.

As more low-skill manufacturing jobs shift overseas, more niche markets nationwide -- and in Carroll County -- seek machinists with higher-level technology and engineering skills, industry leaders said.

"What we're getting here is military and government contracts that don't want to go overseas, medical and scientific work for research labs," said Tim Blizzard, who leads the machine technology program at the Carroll County Career & Technology Center. "There's a lot of the smaller-type jobs that are very high-end and technical."

But enrollment in Blizzard's machine technology program, which he said can take up to 22 students, has dropped to as low as 16 in recent years. Yet once these students enter the work force, jobs are all but guaranteed, Blizzard said.

Manufacturing companies across Maryland have had trouble filing machinist jobs for lathe and computer numerical control (CNC) operators over the past year, said Michael Galiazzo, director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute in Hunt Valley.

Galiazzo told the Carroll consortium members at their monthly meeting last week that candidates applying for these jobs tend to lack technical and hands-on experience.

"Manufacturing today requires degrees, and people with degrees command higher prices," Galiazzo said.

As Carroll County tries to shift its tax burden away from residential property owners by increasing growth of its industrial- commercial base, manufacturing is a targeted sector, said Denise L. Beaver, deputy director of the county Department of Economic Development.

The consortium is brainstorming ways to better market high-tech manufacturing careers such as robotics to a generation that grew up on video games and computers.

Educating middle and high school guidance counselors about the range of options in the field will aid in that effort, group members said. They hope to bring such counselors to local manufacturing facilities for on-site training during the summer.

"I think counselors are more skilled in directing kids in an academic direction," Tim Fales, sales director for G.T. Brothers Inc. custom cabinetry in Westminster, said at the meeting. "How skilled are they at directing in a vocational direction?"

The consortium's members discussed the need to "train the trainer:" teaching existing machinists to be instructors at the high school and community college level.

That's how Blizzard, a former machinist for Diecraft in Cockeysville, got into the field.

Once Carroll Community College has expanded its technical faculty base, the goal is to offer more credits through apprenticeships in the workplace and through online learning, said Kathleen Menasche, director of work force development for the college.

Currently, the community college is more oriented toward two-year liberal arts degrees that transfer to four-year universities, Menasche said.

Dennis Faber of the Technology & Innovation in Manufacturing Education (TIME) Center at the Community College of Baltimore County encouraged members of the consortium to look at the pipeline of technical education, not just a quick fix through a marketing campaign.

"Addressing some of the more systemic problems may have more long-term impact than a DVD about how wonderful manufacturing is," Faber said.

As more technical and vocational programs disappear from the state's high schools, more in-house and online training occurs in the field, Galiazzo said.

He said this method is more attractive to smaller companies, which can't afford to send workers off-site. Traditional apprenticeships can now be credited toward a degree.

Blizzard's machine-technology students can earn 17 college credits through his coursework while still in high school, he said.

Consortium members said they are working with Faber's TIME Center to try to tap into National Science Foundation grants. But those grants don't generally cover the millions of dollars that it costs to purchase the machine technology for training, members said.

"To put in a machine shop at Carroll Community College would be a phenomenal expense," said Tony Baile, sales manager for the Fairlawn Tool & Die Co. "But I'm going to be optimistic that there are enough people here in so many different businesses that we can make a larger impact."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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