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It's not all MBAs and Ph.D.s out there in tech: One Texas community college says a lot of companies are craving people who know how to work with their hands. Now what?

You'd be forgiven for thinking the world of work has swung largely toward software jobs. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics puts computer tech and mathematics in a tie for the second fastest-growing employment sectors from 2019 to 2029. But deeper inside the stats you also find jobs like wind turbine and solar panel technicians showing some of the highest percentage growth, a hint that not every good job is going to a keyboard jockey. Now what?

Laura Marmolejo of Austin Community College

Laura Marmolejo, chair of manufacturing tech Austin Community College

Austin Community College

"The jobs have changed, they're not like they were 20 years ago or even 10 years ago," says Laura Marmolejo, chair of the manufacturing technology department at Austin Community College in Texas. Manufacturing jobs "aren't the way you remember or heard of, they've become much more highly skilled." Around Austin, manufacturing is the leading contributor to the area economy, according to the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, even though the area is more often thought of as a Silicon Valley in cowboy boots. Tesla has a partnership with Austin Community College, training students for the carmaker's modern manufacturing jobs in about 14 weeks.

Yes, manufacturing has had to make room for automation, but Marmolejo says that has changed the jobs more than replaced them, shifting humans from repetitive work to operating, maintaining and optimizing automated systems, positions that require skilled labor but not necessarily an advanced degree.

"When we teach electronics," she says, "we get into the fundamental concepts and then how to apply those concepts in a practical sense, which is much more enjoyable if you're a hands-on person." Austin Community College also offers "stackable certificates" that can take as little as six weeks to earn but can lever up into an AA degree and beyond.

Check out Marmolejo's conversation with CNET's Brian Cooley to learn what she tells her students she wishes she'd known when she was building her engineering career.


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Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal."  There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.