MONROE – This isn’t the manufacturing your grandfather knew.
That was part of the message that Make It in Union County stressed during it Manufacturing Awareness Week on Oct. 1-5. Make It in Union County is a program of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
During the week-long event, several manufacturers opened their doors to students, their parents and educators for tours of their facilities. About 500 people attended a manufacturing expo at South Piedmont Community College. SPCC offers an apprenticeship program that allows students the opportunity to work at manufacturing companies.
Around 150 manufacturing companies operate in Union County, and Manufacturing Awareness Week is a good way to connect manufacturers with prospective employees, according to Pat Kahle, president of the chamber.
“The reason for Make It in Union County is it relates to increasing awareness in our young people, their parents and their educators about the great jobs in manufacturing,” Kahle said. “It’s totally different than their grandfather’s manufacturing. These are high-paying jobs in a clean place to work.
“Many do not require a four-year university education. Many can come right here to South Piedmont Community College and receive some training, get national certification and go to work. For us, it is making sure our community understands that our young people can stay here, build a family, enjoy living here in our community and earn a very good wage.”
Kirkco Corporation of Monroe was one of the many companies at the manufacturing expo on Oct. 4. President T.W. Kirkpatrick said his company takes advantage of the apprenticeship program by employing SPCC student Chris Collins.
Kirkco was established in 1985 as an importer and distributor of adhesive, sealant and lubricant metering, mixing, and dispensing equipment. Over the years, it has grown in both knowledge and size to be able to supply not only dispensing equipment but also complete system solutions that include design and integration.
“The situation, as it is for everyone, it’s hard to find people,” Kirkpatrick said. “We explored the apprenticeship program about five years ago. Chris Collins worked for us for about six months when he was still in high school. The apprenticeship program has been very important in his success at Kirkco Corporation. I hope he will be a long-term employee for us.”
Collins, a 2017 Porter Ridge graduate, said he would like to eventually get a four-year degree in mechanical engineering.
“It’s really about furthering your education while being able to work full-time,” Collins said of the apprenticeship program. “I’ve learned so much working at Kirkco. When I started, I didn’t know much. I have learned so many mechanical traits. I do multiple jobs and I like that aspect of it. It is good to work for a family company.”
Manufacturers in Union County employ around 15,000 people, and that is a large economic footprint in the county.
“Union County has a very strong manufacturing population,” Kahle said. “That includes the really largest ones like ATI Specialty Materials to very small machine shops. A good many of the employees live in Union County. Manufacturing here is Union County is a very strong economic support of our county. Manufacturing supports many of the services that we, the residents of Union County, use. Manufacturing is a great boon for our county.”
The opening of the Monroe Expressway in the coming weeks and the announcement of a new industrial park in Monroe will possibly allow even more manufacturing companies to call the county home. The new expressway will also improve transportation logistics for existing companies in the area.
“There is still room for manufacturing to grow here in Union County,” Kahle said.
What is the SPCC Apprenticeship Program?
South Piedmont Community College partners with local manufacturers and offer apprenticeship programs that provide hands-on training and career development opportunities with a guaranteed job when the apprenticeship is completed. Through the apprenticeship program, a student can attend college and continuing education classes, receive industry certifications, and begin a career in specialized fields such as industrial maintenance mechanic, welding, machinist to name a few. The training is paid for as students earn while they learn. That translates to no college debt while starting a highly paid career path in manufacturing.