While some of the public may still have outdated views of manufacturing jobs—viewing them as dangerous, difficult, and undesirable—those of us who are close to the industry know better. In fact, 72% of leaders Autodesk surveyed agree that manufacturing roles have changed more in the last three years than in the previous 25, according to the 2023 State of Design & Make report. This means that manufacturing roles today require highly skilled workers with competencies in advanced manufacturing technologies (like generative design and robotics), ushered in by digital transformation and the rise of Industry 4.0.
With these rapid changes, manufacturing industry leaders say that talent recruitment is a top issue, with 2 of 3 companies surveyed by Autodesk struggling to find workers with the right skills. This begs the question: where do we find this new workforce?
During my time working closely with academia in my role at Autodesk and as a previous community college professor, I’ve seen the incredible potential that students have to fill this gap in the manufacturing industry. We also see students prepare to enter the workforce through a variety of academic paths, like community colleges and trade schools.
Nash Community College is one school on the forefront of preparing students for future careers in manufacturing by integrating the technology and tools used in industry, like Autodesk Fusion 360, into its curriculum. Among the supporters of this model is President Biden, who recently visited campus and praised the program’s model for preparing the future workforce.
Another important advantage of schools like Nash: community colleges and trade schools are generally more affordable, which is becoming more important as the cost of four-year schools continues to rise. This topic is relevant now more than ever as millions of student borrowers resume paying back their loans this month after a three-year pause during the pandemic.
With this context in mind, I wanted to hear students’ perspectives. Recently, I met Deven Scoggins and Troy Chappell, two students pursuing their associate degree for Computer Integrated Machining at Nash Community College, and spoke with them about careers in manufacturing, community college, and student loans.
Jason: You both anticipate graduating debt-free. Do you know anyone with student debt?
Deven: I’m the youngest of three and my older sister has student loan debt. It’s unfortunate that so many people are unprepared for student loan debt. It’s all about the career pathway as well, when people are taking out two or three times the amount they would earn their first year. It’s helpful to have a direct job correlated to what you’re learning.
Troy: I have older siblings, twin sisters. One is a teacher and one is a nurse. Both of them went to four-year colleges and graduated over eight years ago and they’re both still paying off student loans.
Jason: Did the idea of having student loan debt factor into your college decision?
Deven: That was part of the reason I started looking at community colleges. I knew I wasn’t going to take out a loan when I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.
Troy: What got me looking into community college and career options was the fact that I just had my first child, and the idea of attending a four-year college and taking on so much debt wasn’t a good idea in my case.
Jason: And what drew you to Nash Community College?
Deven: I ended up moving to North Carolina almost two years ago with my dad from California. He bought a business, Langley Industrial Machining, so I moved to work with him. I ended up at Nash to get my education in the processes we perform in the work environment. The folks at the business actually told me about this program.
Troy: I chose Nash after I took a tour of the campus and the advanced manufacturing building. I saw all the machines and asked a bunch of questions. I realized it was a nice mixture of working with my hands and using my head.
Jason: What are the benefits of attending a community college like Nash?
Deven: Community colleges are generally more affordable and flexible, along with more faculty-to-student assistance that I may not receive at a four-year.
Troy: I hadn’t been to high school in over five years and didn’t know what I wanted to do, or waste time and money. I think community college is a good option for people who don’t know what’s next. It’s easy to get your prerequisites if you want to move on to a four-year college, and it’s easy to dip your toe into a little bit of everything just to see your options. In my case, I wouldn’t have even thought of manufacturing if I hadn’t visited Nash.
Jason: Do you think there are any misconceptions about community college?
Deven: I would imagine that some people may automatically assume that it is a lesser education than a four-year college. But I think a lot of people miss out on different trade options when they look at it that way.
Troy: I remember during high school, they were pushing hard for bachelor’s degrees. I hadn’t even considered community college until a couple years ago, but I think they’re helpful because local businesses draw employment from community colleges. Currently, I’m doing an internship with Cummins Diesel Engines and working at their facility. Just me being here gave me that opportunity.
Jason: Tell me about your career goals after Nash.
Troy: My internship is the first time I’ve been in a manufacturing role. Everything before this has been retail or construction. I would like to get my Journeyman card, and Cummins offers on-the-job training for the Journeyman program. After that, I would like to become a toolmaker.
Deven: I just want to learn as much as I can about this industry. My family has a small business, so realistically, there’s no guarantee from year to year. My goal right now is to learn as much as possible to bring back to the business.
Jason: Do you have any advice for students?
Deven: One thing I would say is, there’s no rush. Take the time to think about what you want to do. I was a completely different person at 17 than I was even at 21. It takes time to figure yourself out.
Troy: I can definitely agree as someone who was working a job and went back to school when I was 26. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure from parents and teachers to immediately start working towards your forever career. There’s not enough focus on taking the time to explore and figure out what you actually want to do.
Jason: Thank you for sharing your stories. Your experiences demonstrate that there isn’t a correct or incorrect way to pursue education and I know that your diligence will earn you rewarding careers in manufacturing.