Creating a center of excellence for manufacturing will help the region

When was Greater Cleveland’s golden age of manufacturing? Some would point to past decades, when factories and mills across the region helped to supply the nation with steel, rubber, vehicles and more.

The close of that era brought difficulty to Northeast Ohio, but it also brought opportunity. The region has cleaned up much of the environmental damage from outdated industrial practices and has diversified the economy to capitalize on tourism, service and technology.

Yet we should not be quick to dismiss manufacturing. Northeast Ohio remains a city that “makes things.” Nationally, Ohio ranks seventh in the percentage of the workforce in manufacturing. To have a truly vibrant economy into the future, we must encourage growth in that sector.

Cuyahoga Community College is partnering with employers, government, nonprofits and other educational institutions to ensure that our region is poised for that growth. With more than $3 million of public and private funds, Tri-C is redesigning its Unified Technology Center on the Metropolitan Campus into a state-of-the-art Manufacturing Technology Center.

 Expertise is in demand

Today’s manufacturing jobs, of course, are not our fathers’. No longer is the picture of manufacturing an image of dirty, hot and dangerous shop floors that destabilize our natural environment. Manufacturing today is becoming ever-cleaner and more high-tech.

The training required for these jobs goes far beyond those of the past, when a high school diploma could still lead to a family-sustaining wage and a career.

Skills in mechanical and electronic controls, programming, industrial technology and more are essential to the new generation of workers who will be needed to fill the needs of a growing — and greying — manufacturing workforce.

In fact, more than 18,700 lightweight manufacturing job postings were active in Ohio in mid-2015, according to a study by Burning Glass Technologies. 

What we’re doing

Working with employers, Tri-C is aligning degree and certificate programs in its new Manufacturing Center of Excellence with the current and projected openings in our county and beyond.

Partnering with employers not only ensures that the training matches the skills of the industry’s jobs. It also leads to investments in programs, internships and equipment.

Tri-C recently received a grant from Alcoa to provide equipment for a new integrated manufacturing line as part of a renovated “fab lab” at the Manufacturing Technology Center. Combined with additive manufacturing (3-D printing), mechatronics, CNC and other advanced manufacturing programs, Tri-C is positioned to offer comprehensive and affordable educational opportunities for manufacturing workers.

The college will also create mobile manufacturing labs in renovated shipping containers —transported across the region by Tri-C’s truck-driving academy — that can provide local training opportunities for employers, technical schools and other partners. Growing collaboration between the local community colleges will also promote a coordinated regional approach.

The benefits of bringing cleaner, more productive manufacturing home to Cleveland are vast. By supporting the growth of this sector, Tri-C and our partners are striving to ensure that our golden age of manufacturing, and of our entire economy, is only yet to come.

Alex Johnson, Ph.D., is president of Cuyahoga Community College. He focuses on strengthening the college’s more than 50-year mission of providing high-quality, accessible and affordable educational opportunities and services. Since becoming president in July 2013, he has promoted access, equity, success and completion for the nearly 60,000 credit and non-credit students who attend Tri-C’s eight campuses and centers throughout Greater Cleveland each year.