The Union County Advanced Technology Center is working on expanding its welding program and establishing a mechatronics program as part of a series of workforce initiatives announced by Spartanburg Community College.
The SCC Action Plan was announced by college President Henry C. Giles Jr. during a press conference Monday afternoon at the technology center. The press conference was one of three conducted Monday by SCC in partnership with The Duke Energy Foundation to announce the findings of a market research study conducted this summer by the college with a grant from the foundation.
The study examined the needs, skills, gaps, and impact of the evolving workforce in the manufacturing industry in the Upstate. It also analyzed the future outlook of the manufacturing sector for employers, employees, and the vitality of the regional economy.
The study — The Upstate Job Scene: Where Perception Does Not Equal Reality — found that 42 percent of the current workforce in SCC’s service area — Cherokee, Spartanburg, and Union counties — is over the age of 50 and that 23 percent of those workers plan on retiring over the next 10 years. The study concluded that the retirement of these workers will have a tremendous impact on the area’s economy, especially manufacturing, as skilled workers leave the workforce and must be replaced. It further determined that there exists a disconnect between between the jobs offered by and expectations of industry and the education and interests of many members of the rising generation of potential employees.
To deal with these challenges, Giles announced an action plan that SCC will implement to “educate and train manpower needed by business, both now and in the future.”
The plan includes expansion of SCC’s capacity to enroll and graduate more students, both credit and non-credit, and to prepare more students for critical need areas such as, Advanced Manufacturing, Industrial Technologies, Engineering Technologies, Business and Computer Technology.
It includes SCC expanding its curriculum to address new emerging careers, such as, Logistics, Transportation, Chemical Engineering Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Civil Engineering Technology, Advance Composite Materials Manufacturing, and Data Security.
The Union County Advanced Technology Center is part of the SCC system and Site Coordinator Kathy Jo Lancaster said it will do its part in the initiatives announced by Giles by, first, working to expand its already extremely popular welding program.
“We want to increase our industrial programs, we want to increase our program offerings and enrollment here,” Lancaster said Wednesday. “In welding, we already have two programs and both are full. We want to continue that trend and one way to do that would be to provide career development and exploratory activities for these students to ensure that they can find jobs once they graduate.”
In announcing the action plan, Giles also said that SCC would work to strengthen its partnerships with industry to ensure graduates are prepared for the workforce and to be productive citizens.
Lancaster said Wednesday that enhanced partnerships with industry could not only help expand the welding program at UCATC, but also enlarging the center’s workforce pipeline of graduating skilled workers who can fill the jobs industry has waiting for them.
“It is crucial that we connect with industries that are hiring welders,” Lancaster said. “We would work with these industries to offer students co-op opportunities as well as apprenticeships.”
Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that combines mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, control, and computer engineering. It combines those fields for the design, development and application of “smart devices” or systems that incorporate sensors, actuators and computer control systems. The process involves the integration of microelectronics and the engineering of software into mechanical and electromechanical systems.
A brochure published by SCC about mechatronics states that mechatronics technicians are involved in a wide variety of fields including robotics, automated manufacturing and packaging, automobiles, airplanes, gas pumps, vending, gaming, ATM machines, heating and cooling systems, and renewable energy systems.
Lancaster said that as part of its implementation of the action plan announced by Giles, the UCATC will work to establish a mechatronics program. She said that, just as expanding the welding program will require the center to partner with industry, setting up a mechatronics program will require a partnership between the UCATC and the community.
“One of our limitations is funding,” Lancaster said. “To purchase equipment to run a full mechatronics program is around $200,000.
“The conundrum we’re facing is we need the students to justify the funding for the equipment,” she said. “At the same time, we need the funding to set up the class in order to recruit the students."
As part of its action plan, Giles said that SCC would work to strengthen its K-12 school partnerships to ensure an environment that encourages all students to continue their education and skills development after high school. Lancaster said the UCATC is working to do that as part of its efforts to establish a mechatronics program.
“We are currently working to establish a dual credit mechatronics program with the (Union County School District) Career and Technology Center,” Lancaster said. “The idea would be to offer entry-level mechatronics classes here at the technology center. Once they graduated from high school they would transition into the mechatronics certificate program here at the center.”
Lancaster said that expanding the welding program and establishing the mechatronics program would be “challenging but well worth it” for not only the center and SCC, but for those taking the courses, their families, and the community.
“The young people who go to work in manufacturing make an average of 26 percent more than those in non-manufacturing jobs,” Lancaster said. “So the money spent on these programs would be money well spent and give a great return on that investment.”
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