The old, grimy shop floor of America’s heyday as the world’s top industrial power is gone, but there are plenty of jobs in Alabama for men and women who want to work on the new, shiny shop floors popping up here and across the South.
Teams from across Alabama competed last week’s at the city of Auburn’s new advanced manufacturing training facility, a $2 million, public/ private partnership in the city’s industrial park. Project MFG: Next Generation Manufacturing Challenge Alabama State Championship was sponsored by the city, Auburn University and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program.
Daniel Anderson, 33, a machine toolmaker with Federal Mogul in Boaz, was mentoring one of the teams. He said he worked a lot of different, low-end manufacturing jobs before he enrolled at Gadsden State Community College.
“Right now, I’m the highest-paid hourly employee in my plant,” said Anderson, who is working on an advanced degree at the school.
The event is part of a national effort to publicize the acute shortage of trained workers who can program and run industrial robots and component-making machines like the Haas Five-Axis, which is marketed by the Phillips Corp.
“We’d have more machines running if we had more trained operators,” said Ken Potts, sales manager for Phillips.
Potts’ colleague, sales engineer Scott Oden, said the training opportunities are there for the taking; however, not enough people are taking them.
“Employers are begging for people who have gone through these (community college) courses with backgrounds in machining,” he said. “Students get hired before they even finish the courses.”
The Department of Defense helps fund competitions such as this one because the U.S. needs more people who can work in the new, highly specialized and engineered manufacturing jobs that support defense industries, information technology and other core national security needs.
“We have both an acute and chronic shortage of manufacturing talent in this country,” said Adele Ratcliffe, an industrial policy analyst for the department who was on hand for the competition. “We want to inspire individuals to come into this work to develop new talent … to create a natural pipeline that would create the next generation of workers.”
Amy Brabham, Auburn’s director of workforce development, also was at the event.
She said the city’s new training facility is an effort by local employers, Auburn University and her office to upgrade the local labor pool and provide more trained workers for prospective employers, as well as the manufacturing companies that are already here.
“We definitely need more students interested in this, more dual enrollments (with local high schools),” Brabham said. “We could use another 100-200 students right now.”
Anyone interested in advanced manufacturing training opportunities can start by visiting Apprenticeships for Alabama at www.al apprentice.org or Southern Union Community College at www.suscc.edu. They also can contact Brabham’s office at webecondev@auburn alabama.org.