Advanced Manufacturing pilot course first step in new career pathway program at Durham Tech

Tracey Brown (left) discusses functions of the LR Mate 200iD robotic arm with instructor, Walter Bartlett (right).

Patrick Wynn watches closely as the LR Mate 200iD robotic arm picks up a plastic blue disc and moves it through the mock production line in the Mechatronics Lab at Durham Tech where students are learning the basic skills required to become an entry-level manufacturing production technician.

“The community college system is the technical arm of the job market,” said Walter Bartlett, instructor at Durham Tech and former president of Piedmont Community College. “About 80 percent of jobs out there are technical based and require an associate’s degree level knowledge so it’s prudent that we offer that.”

Wynn, 29, is a Maintenance Technician at the Corning facility in Durham and one of the first students to enroll in the College’s newest course – Manufacturing Production Technician.

“I wanted to reacquaint myself with higher technology so I can better understand my job,” Wynn said. “Eventually I want to strive for a higher position, but for now, I just want to have a stronger understanding so I can do my job better.”

The pilot course serves as the first step in the expansion of the Advanced Manufacturing career pathway at Durham Tech, which was funded by the Golden Leaf Foundation in April. The course provides training for the basic and technical skills needed to prepare students for advanced, high-performance manufacturing environments.

“If you talk to A.W. and Merck, they’ll tell you they need technicians. They need people with these skills,” Bartlett said. “We have a lot of opportunities at the community college to fulfill these positions and Durham Tech is doing a great job at trying to increase their capacity and meet that need.”

The expansion of the Advanced Manufacturing pathway at Durham Tech will place workers on the path to training, learning, and earning the certifications they need to apply for open, regional job opportunities and, in turn, begin their career paths towards high-demand occupations in Durham and Orange counties.

It also leverages partnerships with several local agencies including: Merck, Bell and Howell, Purdue Pharma, AW, Biogen, KBI, and Morinaga America, Inc.

“The big draw for this particular program is that there is a recognition in the industry that electronics are controlling the mechanical functions so having someone with an electronics technician background in addition to having the skills and mechanical to drive what the controls mean is extremely important,” Bartlett said.

Tracey Brown, one of Wynn’s classmates, has no prior manufacturing experience, but hopes this course will open a new door in her career.

“My background is in architecture, but I’m hoping someone will take me on after having the fundamental knowledge from this program,” Brown said. “I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed what we’re doing because I was never exposed to it before. I want to encourage young women and young people in general to get on board with manufacturing, especially in the way that it’s being done now with computerized systems.”

Patrick Wynn (left) and Tracey Brown (right) observe the Programmable Logic Controller.

The course also offers students the opportunity to earn six industry-recognized credentials within the FESTO 4.0 industry certifications.

“I think one of the attractions is that what we’re doing here is mostly hands-on,” Bartlett said. “The first 100 hours of the course is spent learning how to program the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller). We’ve covered what normally takes 16 weeks, in just 4 weeks, so they’ve moved fast, but doing well.”

Students may enter one of six possible short-term credential courses. By following the pathway students may gain certification and continue on to higher levels of education and training or exit into skilled, high-demand occupations in advanced manufacturing.