If you listen to popular opinion, you might think the leading industry in the U.S. economy is the service sector. Think again. The leading industry sector in our economy is manufacturing. In fact, according to an Atlantic Monthly article from earlier this year, the manufacturing sector in the U.S. makes up about the same percentage of GDP as it did in the early 1960’s.
You might wonder how this can be given that so many manufacturing plants have shut down here and so many manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. You might also have a hard time believing this if you are one of the 5 million or more workers who have lost their jobs over the past 20 years. The explanation: Yes, much manufacturing has gone overseas, but what has remained is advanced manufacturing, which usually involves a lot of automation. In fact, because of automation and advanced manufacturing processes, productivity in American manufacturing is actually at an all-time high.
For those who do work in manufacturing, this means opportunity. The Atlantic quotes Michael Hicks, economics professor at Ball State University, as saying: “The mantra that we’ve lost good-paying jobs to China is exactly wrong. We’ve lost the bad-paying jobs to China and gained good-paying jobs.” The caveat? Workers need more education than they did in the past to land those jobs. Fifty years ago, most manufacturing workers didn’t need post-secondary education. The Atlantic cites a Congressional Research Service report that says, “While manufacturing jobs for people with less than a high-school education fell 44 percent between 2000 and 2013, those for people with associate degrees in academic fields rose 17 percent.”
Joshua Jones, Lumberton native and Robeson Community College graduate, has positioned himself to take advantage of these trends. After graduating from Lumberton High School in 2011 with an illustrious JROTC record that included leadership positions and many awards, Jones enrolled at RCC as a college transfer student, initially to bide his time while waiting to join the Marines. When an asthma condition changed his military plans, Jones changed his major to Industrial Systems Technology where he had the opportunity to intern at Unilever as a maintenance technician for a year. By the time he graduated from RCC in 2015, Jones had served as president of both the National Technical Honor Society and the Advanced Manufacturing Club, and he was awarded a STEM scholarship, the Dr. J. Irvin & Ann Moss Biggs Endowed Scholarship and the James A. Comstock Memorial Annual Scholarship.
Harvey Strong, chairperson of the Industrial Technologies program at RCC, noted Jones’ ambition as a key to his success. Jones learned of a “2 + 2” program at ECU from RCC instructor Michael Levinson, who was enrolled in online classes at ECU. In a “2 + 2” program, a four-year institution will accept 2 years’ worth of credit from a community college towards the university’s four-year degree.
After graduating from RCC, Jones immediately enrolled in the bachelors of science in Industrial Systems Technology program at ECU, where he has earned the ECU Excels Award, the Technology Systems General Scholarship, the Bing Endowed Scholarship and the Keihin Carolina Systems Technology Scholarship. He was also inducted into the Epsilon Pi Tau, Sigma Alpha Pi, Tau Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Societies and served as vice president of the Professional Association of Industrial Distributors.
“Students will amaze you sometimes,” said Levinson. “I wish all students were like him.”
Jones worked as an area manager during an internship at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Fayetteville before graduating in the top 10 percent of his class at ECU this past May. He received several job offers before accepting a supervisory position at Mestek, a manufacturer of high efficiency air handlers in Farmville. Not one to let a well-paying job stand in the way of his education, Jones is also currently pursuing a master of science in Technology Management at ECU. Levinson noted that ECU also offers doctoral degrees that Jones can pursue once he completes his master’s degree.
If a well-paying job in advanced manufacturing sounds exciting to you, contact Harvey Strong by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 910-272-3472 for information about how to get started.
Dennis Watts is Public Relations officer at RCC.