via The Roanoke Times [link]

A call comes in to a local manufacturer. The customer needs their product but with special requirements. Team members from machine operator to engineer work together to determine how to best satisfy the customer. In this age of customization and special requirements, people look to American manufacturers for innovative solutions. With more than 17,000 employees, we in the Roanoke region are successfully meeting today’s manufacturing challenges.

One would be quite surprised to learn of all the products manufactured in the Roanoke region that ship all over the world. Night vision goggles used by our military and police forces. Fiber optic cable following oil wells thousands of feet underground, and feeding cell towers our calls and data. Control systems for wind turbines. Railroad cars and braking systems. Keyless entry systems. Fine jewelry. Custom circuit boards. Medical devices, Automotive transmission components, tires and truck chassis. The list goes on and on. And, of course, a high volume custom craft beer!

In our factories, what were once simple machines are now complex and computer controlled; providing rapid changeover and precise quality control. Running a machine is no longer repetitive or monotonous — it is quite interesting! Most factories are clean and modern. Most factories are run with complex computer systems. Some of the processes used are 3D printing, computer vision systems to inspect product, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining. Even smaller companies may offer hundreds of variations to their standard products.

Manufacturing is a career that provides continual satisfaction. We satisfy our customers on a daily basis. Every day there is a feeling of accomplishment. One constantly see the fruits of their labor ship out the door.

With or without a college degree, manufacturing as a career provides tremendous opportunity. Machine operators with initiative become planners, schedulers, salespeople, supervisors, technical support. Many plant managers started out on the factory floor. With the high cost of college, entry level manufacturing is a smart and practical career choice. If someone has a good mechanical aptitude, there can be a great career path ahead of them, limited only by their motivation.

Virginia Western Community College has an abundance of training and certification courses that can help one enter manufacturing with a head start. Many grants are available to help with tuition cost. Its mechatronics program is considered the top in the state, and graduates look at multiple job opportunities. Courses are also available in machining and maintenance technology. Basic manufacturing skills are taught such as quality control, electricity, blueprint reading, fluid power and thermodynamics. MT1 certification (Manufacturing Technician I) is available at Virginia Western and is beginning to be offered in local high schools. This certification or the Siemens Certification can help students overcome some companies’ requirements for prior experience and can bring job offers for higher level starting positions.

Manufacturing is extremely important to the United States. When we lose the ability to make a product, we lose our resiliency- we are forced to rely on other countries for goods. Foreign policy, trade wars and currency valuation can impact our supply chain. An exodus of our electronic, textile, furniture and consumer goods manufacturing base has led to a perpetual deficit in our balance of trade, not to mention the loss of jobs to communities Fortunately, manufacturing is returning to the U.S. as technical complexity, customization and rapid delivery create a strong need for domestic manufacturing.

Locally there is a great need for manufacturing workers. Companies are expanding, baby boomers are retiring, leading to a shortage of good skilled workers. Take a look at the want ads and there are many, many openings in manufacturing. Pay and benefits are competitive. Work environments are friendly, with management and employees working together in for a common objective.

A strong manufacturing presence is vital to our community. Products sold outside of the region bring wealth to the area. The salaries of manufacturing workers support retail and other service jobs in the Valley. We are also a large customer supporting the local transportation industry.

The factory managers in the Roanoke Region are working together to promote manufacturing as a driver of local economic success. Working in conjunction with the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and Virginia Blue Ridge Works, we have formed the Manufacturing Executives Roundtable. We are working together to make sure we have the latest in manufacturing systems and technology. We are coordinating with schools to optimize the training provided. Our goal is to get the word out to everyone that Manufacturing is a challenging and rewarding career, and is important to the Valley. For you or your children, please look at manufacturing as a means to a great and satisfying career.

About John Dyer: Dyer is coordinator of the Roanoke Manufacturing Executives Roundtable. He was Vice President of Manufacturing at Optical Cable Corp. for several years and is now Quality Manager at Global Metal Finishing. He serves on the Virginia Western Workforce Advisory Board and is former officer of the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

About Dan Hughes: Hughes is Director of Operations at Wabtec-Graham White. He serves on the Roanoke City ROTEC Advisory Board and is president of the ROTEC Foundation. He is the Burton Technology Center’s representative to the Roanoke County General Advisory Board.

Both John and Dan serve on the Virginia Western Community College Mechatronics Program Steering Committee.

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