Speaker 1: If you read headlines about American business and manufacturing lately, you get this impression that there is a whole middle it's been carved out and is gone forever. The machines are doing everything. And you're either at the bottom of the ladder or you're a multi-year multi degree engineer somewhere at the top. It's kind of a grim picture. How, what Laura Marmolejo is here to give us a different look at this conventional wisdom. She's the department chair of manufacturing technology at Austin [00:00:30] community college in Austin, Texas, a hotbed of some very interesting, innovative companies that range from those that are doing virtual things to those that are doing very tangible products. And she's got a viewpoint through a program they have there at their school. That's we thought doing a very, uh, real world and refreshing take on how to prepare people for today's manufacturing, middle, which I guess I wasn't sure still existed. So, uh, Laura, first of all, what kind of jobs are out there that you think most of us think are gone [00:01:00] in the world of manufacturing in the us?
Speaker 2: Well, the traditional title would be production people, production operators, and techs, and they're, that is absolutely incorrect. They're very high in demand, but the jobs have changed. They're not like they were 20 years ago or 10 years ago, even. So that's one of the sectors that has, is growing strong. Uh, and it's not the way, um, you remember it or the way you've heard of it, it's become a more, uh, highly skilled job. Uh, one that requires a lot more knowledge than we think.
Speaker 1: So what does this production manager do in their day to day work?
Speaker 2: [00:01:30] Uh, if you work in production, basically what you're doing is you're assisting the process of building a product, right? So, and because our products are built in a more automated environment, they're basically usually either maintaining equipment troubleshooting, any potential downtime, or making sure that they optimize a process from start to finish, to make it as sufficient as pro as
Speaker 1: Possible. So what's interesting here is a lot of these stories that, uh, have come up about your program and a couple that caught our eye. They tend to put Tesla in the [00:02:00] headline, right? Preparing students for jobs at Tesla, because as we've all heard that Tesla is this highly advanced, highly automated, uh, assembly process, right? And at the same time, we've also heard so much about when it was crunch time to get models out, they were hungry for people and they were doing, you know, double and even triple shifts sleeping on the factory floor. So it's funny, the story says it's a highly automated place. And it also tells us that it's a company that's hungry for people in the production [00:02:30] space. So that's kinda what you're talking about,
Speaker 2: Right? Because automation doesn't mean that you don't need people. In fact, you need more people. Sometimes, uh, automation is a complex system. So the more complex a system, the more people you need with knowledge to actually maintain that system. And if you don't have those knowledges, those people with that knowledge, it's really hard to be efficient. So if I'm got a, a, um, machine or a robot, that's building something and I don't have the person on, on staff that can maintain it or, or, or adjust it when it needs to be adjusted, then [00:03:00] we're stuck in the water. So yes, you definitely need people. And, and a lot of people with skill sets to maintain those automated systems.
Speaker 1: All right, now, I assume from the kind of systems you're talking about, you know, this isn't the old days of Charlie chap movies. When someone would fix a machine with a little oil can and had a screw driver and tighten some tension, uh, what kind of skills do you teach for people who want to get into today's heart of, you know, middle level manufacturing?
Speaker 2: Well, it starts with understanding what production is like today, how processes are interconnected. [00:03:30] So understanding the big picture, that's a beginning from there. It really helps to have an electronics background, a little bit of robotics, a little bit of understanding of process control. And what we mean by that is understanding that we have inputs that are changing outputs based on some programs. So it's a, it's a big system is what it is and understanding how the system works. Being able to, um, to, to look at it from that perspective makes you much more efficient at maintaining those types
Speaker 1: Of systems. You just mentioned some pretty, uh, some pretty big weight, 80 [00:04:00] areas of expertise, and yet you're at a community college. So I assume you're not directing people toward masters and doctorates and loads of student debt.
Speaker 2: No, absolutely not. We were very affordable. And the cool thing about what we do is see, I'm an engineer by background and you learn a lot of theory, a lot of application of that theory for design, but we're dealing with now is the application. So when we teach a class like even electronic sounds a little scary, but we get into the fundamental concepts. And then we talk about how do you apply those concepts? How do you see them in [00:04:30] the industry? We're not sitting here, uh, designing anything. We're, we're trying to apply what we learn in a more practical sense. So we're looking at it from the practical side, which is much more enjoyable if you're hands on person,
Speaker 1: Is there still a place for the hands on person because human nature hasn't changed. I think as people, a whole big slice of us love hands on work with things, whether it's woodwork, gardening, mechanics and electromechanics. And yet all we ever hear about is software engineers. Uh, is there still a place for those who like to work with their [00:05:00] hands,
Speaker 2: Say 90% of the companies we deal with? The first thing they ask is, do they know how to work with tools that's so important? And that's a fundamental skill that you need is to know how to work with tools. And it's funny, you think that's an easy thing, but working with tools and especially sophisticated tools that have certain measurements are really, you know, highly sought after
Speaker 1: Are the lower levels of education that are feeding into the community college system. I guess I'm talking about high school and I guess middle school, are they preparing kids for these programs? Cause I know when I was [00:05:30] in high school, we're going back to the seventies metal shop and wood shop were very highly sought after and frequently taken. I get the feeling that those aren't very common anymore.
Speaker 2: No, in fact, but they're is more of a focus. Now, initially people didn't wanna do manufacturing. They thought it was a dirty job or a, a hot and you know, uncomfortable job. Uh, but they're starting to realize that there's more to it than that. It's more high tech than it's been before. So we are actually, this is our second year that we're going into a second year of a high school academy. [00:06:00] So we do have high schools now looking at incorporating some of the stuff we teach here at the college, incorporating it in their curriculum, in their high school, uh, program. So
Speaker 1: Let's talk about what this is worth to someone. So they get into a program. They say, look, this doesn't require years and years and years of education and debt, but are they gonna make good money? What's the job, uh, market out there for them, for these jobs that at, at the Teslas of the world, in terms of the compensation.
Speaker 2: Well, looking at broadly at manufacturing here in central Texas, from entry level [00:06:30] skills, all the way to the two year degree, you have a range of anywhere from 15 to $25 an hour starting rate. And that's just beginning. Most of the people who work in this industry, you, if you're, uh, engaged in what you're doing, they move up pretty quickly. And it's the growth that I love about this industry because you can start to make more money over years, your growth potential much higher than typical industries. And so that's where the, where the excitement is because you have the ability to make more money and then continue that fly. Or if that's your, your choosing. So [00:07:00] on, on average, a lot of the employees are making definitely they say the average is 75 to 80,000 a year. That's not at all unusual.
Speaker 1: What do you say to the parents who are listening right now? Who are, I guess almost under peer pressure, if not their own aspirational drive to say, no, I envisioned my kid go going to get at least two degrees. And that's kind of the default. Everybody has this almost kid competition. They want their kid to have more degrees than the other one or from a better school and all this. And yet I feel like that's, that's [00:07:30] such a waste sometimes not to decry higher education, but you're talking about a whole slice of our economy. That seems pretty rewarding.
Speaker 2: Right? Well, I think that, I would say that like say, if you wanna be, you want your child to be an engineer. That's wonderful. I was an engineer. I think it's a great field, but you don't have that practical skill set. And I actually encourage people who are pursuing engineering to start with some of these certificates and associates degrees, because you're learning the hands on portion. And if you pursue all the way to engineering, great, you're gonna be a better here cuz you understand [00:08:00] how to apply it. It's not all theoretical. It's, it's, it's more practical. And then that's what you miss. If you just go straight into engineering, a lot of times you don't get that level of hands on experience and understand what people have to actually deal with in real time,
Speaker 1: I can't emphasize or underline enough what you've said. Um, from my point of view, as a technology editor and lots of companies I've spoken to everything you're saying is very, very interesting. I think it applies in many fields where if you've got some, some hands on practical experience before you go into your [00:08:30] courses of higher education. Um, so whether you're going to go into a manufacturing production management job, or whether you want to go into a higher education, I'm not gonna say a higher level job, but a higher education requiring job. There's no reason not to pass through the production hands on and management level. It seems like that just seems so valuable to me.
Speaker 2: It is. I think those are the best engineers. Those that did that. I had to do it backwards. I went to engineering school and when I came back to the community college, I realized how much I did not know how much comfort I [00:09:00] did not have with, with hands on activities. So I really love that. I learned it and I really emphasize that as it's, it's it's a great compliment to
Speaker 1: Any degree. Now you were telling me a little before we started talking here that you've got some programs that are pretty short, kind of, uh, get it and get the job. And then the, and then that run longer. What are the, what are the kind of tracks you've got there? So people can get an idea of what they would be in for?
Speaker 2: Well, we try to create what we call stackable credentials. So if you just need a job, that's your priority. Uh, we have a short program somewhere around six weeks. We can get you through some [00:09:30] fundamental skills training, uh, and it leads to employment. We've got collaborations with industry already that are higher in our graduates. From there, we wanna create, uh, different levels of education so that people can come and go as their time permits. Our population that comes to the community college usually has a lot of things going on in their lives and not, they're not always available to just go full time school. So we wanna make sure that we build on what they've learned in the past. So six weeks get a job all the way to the two year associates degree. Uh, and then there's [00:10:00] several steps along the way that will get you some kind of credential.
Speaker 1: Laura Armeo is the manufacturing technology department chair at Austin community college.