Even in these times of budget cuts, it is critical to support technical education if we want to keep jobs and expand the composites industry. I believe that the pace of growth in the composites industry is not limited by market size or share, but by the availability of skilled labor. Therefore, we must generate interest in manufacturing careers. Unfortunately, many have heard that manufacturing in the U.S. is becoming obsolete. This is incorrect. Manufacturing exists in a more sophisticated state as automation becomes more common and we produce more with fewer people that are highly skilled.
You hear a lot about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education needs, and we want to create people who have a combination of schooling and hands-on experience who know math and can use their hands; in other words, renaissance minds. We need to create a next generation of Michelangelo’s, who know their math and can use their hands, and of course use CAD to draw and program CNC machines at the same time.
How do you promote composites to the upcoming work force?
SMCC works with high schools to develop an interest in graduates to pursue further education. In the composites program, we provide a high school teacher training program that includes a curriculum they can take into their classrooms, a loan program for professional-quality small molds, and support for setting up the high school labs. Twice a year we also invite area high schools to visit the college for presentations on careers that they have available to them—and give them a reason to keep up with math and science.
How have educational programs impacted individuals, companies and the industry?
What we at SMCC are doing with education and industry partnerships is directly linked to the economic development of the region. Despite the economical crisis, the composites industry is growing steady in Maine and composites wages are well above average for the state. More and more we see out-of-state companies shopping around here to have their critical projects manufactured, whether it’s bridges, composites high speed vessels or any number of other products. Overall, we are seeing a rise in the number of sophisticated projects that are now taking place in the state and it feels good to know that our programs were a significant contribution to make all that happen.
Not only are existing Maine-based companies doing more advanced work, but we are drawing developing companies. For example, an aircraft manufacturing company recently located to our region not because we had a runway, but because we have capacity for workforce training. We speak the language and we’ve developed the skills. I see students who have come to us for training moving into great jobs, and I know it is directly linked to the training they received. We also train dislocated workers who have now moved on to new careers and they tell us they got those jobs because of the training they received here.