Two-day event at Gateway Community College focuses on advanced manufacturing career pathways and opportunities

By Lesia Winiarskyj

Students examine a laser engraving and cutting system used on products ranging from trophies to aerospace components.

On January 11-12, the Connecticut Community Colleges' College of Technology's Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing (RCNGM) held one of an ongoing series of career expos and symposiums at Gateway Community College in North Haven.

The two-day event, which included a parents' night and a day of talks and demonstrations for students, was aimed at educating young people about high-tech careers within the state's manufacturing sector.

RCNGM, a National Science Foundation-funded Center of Excellence, sponsored the event. CBIA's Education Foundation, as the business partner for RCNGM, coordinated the program.

Help Wanted

"Manufacturers are looking to fill open positions," says Dr. Karen Wosczyna-Birch, executive director of RCNGM.

Indeed, CBIA's 2011 Survey of Connecticut's Manufacturing Workforce, commissioned by RCNGM, found that nearly 30% of responding manufacturers plan to hire full-time employees over the next five years but are concerned about finding enough employees with the right skills.

"Not enough young people realize how many excellent career opportunities exist in advanced manufacturing or know how to obtain the education needed to become skilled technologists or engineers in the field," says Wosczyna-Birch.

Lean Machines

Over 250 students and teachers from high schools in Branford, East Haven, Hamden, Milford, New Haven, West Haven, and Woodbridge attended the expo.

They followed a single product: a car: from design through development, learning from manufacturing experts about each stage of the process, including:

  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)
  • Computer numerical control (CNC), or precision machining
  • Coordinate measurement machining (CMM)
  • Laser cutting
  • Rapid prototyping

"Many of our presenters brought the actual equipment they use," said Mary deManbey, project manager for CBIA's Education Foundation. "They were able to show students and teachers, for example, what a CMM or 3D laser printer looks like and how it functions. Participants were amazed to see how processes that used to take days or weeks can now be completed in mere minutes thanks to advances in computer encoding, laser technology, and precision machining."

Getting There

Instructors and exhibitors were on hand to answer students' and teachers' questions, many of which centered on educational pathways to advanced manufacturing careers: what types of courses, degree programs, and certificates are needed for certain jobs and how much time it typically takes to earn those credentials.

"An expo like this emphasizes that jobs in advanced manufacturing demand advanced skills," says Wosczyna-Birch. "You need to be able to perform mathematical calculations, read blueprints, and run complex machines to close tolerances. Fortunately, you can acquire these skills in a mix of ways, including self-paced online classes and community college courses that articulate with programs at four-year universities."

For its part, Gateway Community College is opening a state-of-the art campus in New Haven this fall. Expo participants got a sneak peak at plans for the multimillion-dollar facility, which will include a manufacturing technology program complete with SolidWorks, AutoCAD, AutoDesk, and other advanced tools used by today's industry leaders.

"In the past, students learned on machines that were outdated," says deManbey. "That resulted in a steep learning curve and a major skills gap when they finished school and entered the workforce. All of that is quickly changing."

The next Pathways to Manufacturing Technology Careers Expo is planned for Tunxis Community College in April. Click here for more information or contact mary.demanbey@cbia.com.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.