Cutting-edge skills for high-demand jobs in manufacturing – computers, robotics, electronics

When Henry Ford implemented assembly line techniques in automobile production in 1913, he revolutionized the skills needed in manufacturing. Factories became filled with low- or semi-skilled workers, who performed repetitive tasks for low pay, often in dirty, dark and noisy conditions. Yesterday’s factories have evolved into automated, advanced manufacturing, where workers with a high level of technical skills are needed to run and maintain complex machines, robots and computer systems.

These new technology-based jobs require specific training in mechanics, electrical circuitry, programmable logic controls, heating and cooling in environmentally controlled spaces and associated automated technologies. To help train workers for these careers of the future, Robeson Community College (RCC) renovated space to create several Advanced Manufacturing Labs on its main campus.

RCC’s instructors have backgrounds that include water plant filtration operations, electrical systems, electronics, instrumentation, programmable logic controllers and military missile systems. They hold various industry recognized credentials. Harvey Strong, department chair of the Industrial Technologies/Advanced Manufacturing division at RCC, thinks the hands-on experiences and training of the division’s instructors “integrates multiple disciplines into preparing students for the advanced manufacturing workplace.”

“The dirty, labor intensive environment of American manufacturing is being replaced by clean, safe, automated production systems,” says Strong. “The demand and opportunities for people who have advanced manufacturing skills  is high now and will continue to grow in the future.”

Factory workers are some of the best paid workers in the country, says AJ Jorgenson of the Washington policy think tank, The Manufacturing Institute. “Today’s manufacturing employees earn higher wages and receive more generous benefits than other working Americans.” Jorgenson notes that for 2013, with average wages and benefits totaling $33.93 per hour, “there is almost a 9 percent premium for working in manufacturing.” The U.S. Department of Labor reports Advanced Manufacturing occupations grew by 99.4 percent between 2007 and 2012, and the demand for workers is expected to continue. Economic Modeling Specialists International projects the American manufacturing sector will add 2.5 million new jobs by 2017.

However, because the public’s perception is that manufacturing is still a dirty, dark and dangerous career, employers are finding a “skills gap,” with too few trained technical workers. “Eighty percent of manufacturers report they cannot find individuals with the skills required,” notes Jorgenson. “Today’s manufacturing is about advanced technologies, state-of-the-art facilities, and fast-paced work environments,” states Jorgenson. Manufacturing medical devices is “lab coat work.”

To meet this new demand for trained employees, the RCC Industrial Technology/Advanced Manufacturing programs educate students to become “electro-mechanical technicians,” who will be able to install, repair, upgrade and test computer-controlled mechanical systems, often dealing with robotic machinery.

Students who take advantage of RCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Labs are able to receive hands-on training and work with the same equipment found in the manufacturing and industrial fields. The goal is to provide an ideal learning environment for mastering the fundamentals required for Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics.

To obtain an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree that focuses on advanced manufacturing students must complete 76 credits, with courses in industrial mechanics, electrical systems, logic controllers, robotics and CAD/CAM. Students also complete a hands-on capstone application project. Overall program emphasis is on predictive maintenance, troubleshooting and quality assurance.

Because these programs can be hard to find in the United States, Strong urges students to look into the fields of Advanced Manufacturing, Mechatronics, Solar Energy, and Electronics to see what exciting possibilities lie ahead. He also invites those who are interested in the program to visit the RCC Advanced Manufacturing Labs to see the latest equipment available for student use.   

Fall 2017 classes begin August 14! Enroll Now!

To learn more, visit or contact Mr. Strong by phone at 910-272-3472 or by e-mail at

MYTH: Manufacturing in the U.S. is dead.

Against an economic backdrop of the “rise of China,” it’s easy to forget that the U.S. continues to be far and away the largest overall producer of goods and services in the world. If the U.S. manufacturing sector were its own country, it would still rank as the eighth largest economy in the world – producing more than the entire gross domestic product of India, a well-known export giant!

U.S. manufacturing production was expected to rise 2.4 percent in 2017 and 2.5 percent in 2018., according to the MAPI Foundation.