The Ottumwa Courier

October 1, 2013

Technical jobs respectable work

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — A dirty, run-down building filled with dirty, run-down people may be the image that comes to mind when hearing the word "manufacturing."

A group of educators in Ottumwa and beyond want to change that image: Today's factories, said Nathan Miller, are clean places staffed with professional, well-paid employees.

Miller is a career coordinator at Indian Hills Community College. He works for the section that trains people in "advanced manufacturing."

"We're facilitating some events for the upcoming National Advanced Manufacturing Day," said Tom Rubel, executive dean of regional economic advancement at The Hills.

They're hoping an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday can help show the workers of the future what's available in the modern world. They'll highlight two programs: The Welding Technology open house will be at the North (airport) Campus, and the Machine Technology open house is in the Advanced Technology Center on Main (Ottumwa) Campus.

Department chair Greg Kepner said advanced manufacturing uses familiar tools, like lathes and mills, as well as more sophisticated, modern equipment like machining centers and computer-operated cutters.

An Iowa Advanced Manufacturing Grant is helping community colleges around the state promote their programs because, said IHCC project director A.J. Gevock, "there's such a shortage" of employees.

Gevock worries that young people may be missing out on excellent job opportunities because they (or in some cases, their parents) perceive "manufacturing" as low-paying drudge work: That it's the place workers go when they can't do anything else. In advanced manufacturing, he said, that's just not true.

"There's a demand for skilled labor, there are high salaries," Gevock said. "There's 100 placement [for graduates of] each of our two signature programs: Welding and Machine Technology."

Kepner said that there's plenty of opportunity for people with technical degrees.

Yet that shortage hurts Iowa; Rubel says Gov. Terry Branstad and state economic development officials tell him companies that want to bring jobs here are hesitant because the necessary workforce is not available.

"Employers are asking, 'Where are we going to get our workers?'," said Rubel. "In this division of the college, advanced manufacturing is becoming a priority."

But, said Miller and Rubel, don't make the mistake of thinking that an out-of-work laborer, or even someone with a history degree, is going to walk into one of these manufacturing plants and score the $19 an hour job that a community college grad is going to get.

In fact, added Kepner, uneducated or untrained workers are going to have a tougher time finding what used to be called "an unskilled" position.

"Those days are about over," he said.

Said Rubel, "There are very few jobs now in our society that pay a sustainable wage without post-secondary education."

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark