Durham Tech career fair showcases manufacturing

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 12:50 PM

You can’t necessarily just walk into a factory anymore and get a job, said Brenda Warwick, senior human resources associate at Eisai Inc., the U.S. pharmaceutical business of a Japanese company that has operations in the Research Triangle Park.

At a manufacturing-focused career fair at Durham Technical Community College on Tuesday, Warwick stressed the need for training for job seekers due to the rise of advanced manufacturing. She said manufacturing work is more automated, involves less manual labor, and can mean learning to troubleshoot machine problems.

Tuesday’s career fair was held to showcase advanced manufacturing work in the state to local high school students. Fairs and other activities are being held at colleges throughout the state this week as part of the N.C. Community College System and N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Manufacturing Awareness Week initiative.

“We want to make sure that young people who are just beginning to think about post-secondary education and adults who are looking for new careers are aware of the opportunities available to them,” Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System, said in a news release.

Manufacturing’s share of total jobs has fallen in the state since the early 1990s, James W. Kleckley, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the East Carolina University College of Business, said in an email.

There were 838,300 employees working in manufacturing in the state in February 1990, according to seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total has fallen about 47 through February of this year, when, according to preliminary data, there were 447,300 people with manufacturing jobs in the state.

In the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area, the total number of employees working in manufacturing was down about 19 percent from February of 1990 to 33,500 people in February of this year, according to preliminary data.

Kleckley said some of the jobs went overseas, while others were lost due to gains in productivity. Technology has become more important in manufacturing, he said, which has led to an increase in productivity, but also has led to fewer jobs.

“There is now a nationwide focus to keep jobs at home and to bring others back from overseas,” Kleckley said. “However, the jobs will be different from 30 years ago. Now, they will require much more education.”

Representatives from companies with a local manufacturing base spoke optimistically at Tuesday’s career fair. The college also had speakers and materials on programs such as network technology and information systems security.

Companies present included AW North Carolina, which makes automatic transmissions for Toyota vehicles, and GE Aviation, which has a plant in Durham where workers assemble aircraft engines.

Will Collins, vice president at AW North Carolina, said there will always be a need in the community for making things, which is “what manufacturing is all about.”

The Japanese manufacturing subsidiary has a facility in the Treyburn Corporate Park where it supplies automotive transmission components and complete automatic transmission for Toyota vehicles.

The company announced a production increase last year that was expected to mean as many as 250 new jobs. That had followed another announcement almost two years prior about an investment that was slated to create more than 360 jobs.

Collins said Tuesday that he believes manufacturing in the state is making a “huge comeback.”

 “There’s always an interest in making products,” he said.

In the past two years, Rick Baker, a technician at GE Aviation in Durham, said he’s seen an uptick in employment as new products are coming out. The plant here assembles jet engines. Elias Diaz, also a technician at the plant, said he believes the plant has been successful in introducing the new products, which is why he believes the future is bright.

Amanda Hamilton, a materials planner for GE Aviation, said she believes the company’s team environment and flatter organization makes students more interested in working for the company. She said this generation is more free-willed and driven, and felt the team environment would appeal to them.

Austin Aucoin, a sophomore at Cedar Ridge High School, said he thinks mechanical manufacturing is fascinating.

“I like seeing how things fit together – how they all work together,” he said.

He said he’s considering working in engineering or in architecture. He was optimistic about the future for manufacturing.

“I think it can really advance – I don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said.

Ian Feather, a sophomore at Cedar Ridge, said the career fair showcased a wide variety of manufacturing opportunities from work in pharmaceuticals to engine manufacturing. He said he’s personally not looking for a job in manufacturing, but believes many classmates are.

Albert Nyamayaro and Ricki McDowell, both freshmen at Chapel Hill High School, spoke Tuesday about wanting to play sports in college. Albert said they came to the career fair to learn about possible college majors.

McDowell said he was told he should have a back-up career plan in addition to sports, and said he was interested in sports broadcasting. He described concerns about increased automation taking jobs away from people.

“I do not support the robots,” Nyamayaro said. “I think they’re going to take over all the jobs.”

Randall Egsegian, Durham Tech’s dean of applied and public service, said the days of manufacturing in the textile mills “are gone.” Instead, he said, the focus is on advanced manufacturing, which he said will require additional skills beyond high school.

“That is the role the community colleges are playing,” he said.