By Ken Sturtz
A new Advanced Manufacturing Institute to be opened at Cayuga Community College’s Fulton campus will provide vital support to both workers and manufacturers in Oswego County.
Initial renovations, which are scheduled to begin over the summer, will create a 7,500-square-foot facility at the college’s Fulton campus at River Glen Drive. The project is the result of partnerships with local industry as well as the county Industrial Development Agency and the Cayuga Community College Foundation.
“We know that manufacturing is one of the economic drivers of Oswego County and one of the drivers of the economy,” says Brian Durant, president of Cayuga Community College. “For years the college has had a connection with industry leaders and been in conversation about how we can support the industry needs that exist.”
Throughout Central New York, and in Oswego County in particular, manufacturers have long struggled to find and hire qualified workers.
That has remained true even during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus. Job openings rose rapidly this spring, but unemployment remained higher than before the pandemic. Businesses across the country have struggled to hire enough workers, especially in food service, construction and manufacturing.
Manufacturing continues to be a key driver of the local economy with entry-level jobs typically starting at above minimum wage and offering opportunities for advancement.
So, what keeps people from filling the positions?
Experts say one of the biggest challenges is that many potential workers simply don’t have the skills necessary for today’s technology-heavy manufacturing jobs. Another issue is many people entering the workforce don’t consider careers in manufacturing due to outdated notions of factory work. Younger workers especially are more likely to be unfamiliar with what modern manufacturing careers entail.
The institute will address those challenges by providing state-of-the-art learning opportunities and hands-on training, says Keiko Kimura, associate vice president of academic affairs. Its goal is to help existing workers enhance their expertise as well as equipping students with the skills to fill available manufacturing jobs in the area.
Kimura, who oversees the Fulton campus, says most of the new facility’s space will be occupied by an advanced laboratory and training center with equipment for training professionals and students in electrical and mechanical maintenance, which will be the focus of the institute.
“We’ll have equipment that trains on electrical motor controls, pneumatics and hydraulics and the technology required to operate and maintain them,” Kimura says.
She says there will also be space for a small machine shop for tool and die training as well as classroom space as needed.
This isn’t Cayuga Community College’s first Advanced Manufacturing Institute or the first time it has expanded its presence in Oswego County. The college, which has 6,500 total students, created its Fulton campus in 1994. The branch occupied several different locations before moving to a much larger space at River Glen Drive a decade ago. In 2016, the college opened an Advanced Manufacturing Institute in Auburn.
Durant says the success of the Auburn institute and the lessons learned there encouraged the college to pursue a similar facility in Oswego County.
“We know the strength of the institute really comes from the connectivity between industry and the college,” he says. “If everyone is on the same page and sees the value, that’s a strength.”
The college spent years building relationships with a consortium of more than 20 Oswego County manufacturers as well as other stakeholders. Its longest standing partnership has been with Novelis, which employs 1,200 people at its aluminum plant in Scriba.
In 2015, Novelis announced a long-term commitment to help launch the manufacturing institute, which included an $80,000 endowment. The aluminum manufacturer is also helping secure equipment to replicate processes found in manufacturing environments.
Kimura says the Advanced Manufacturing Institute and the college’s associated curriculum — the school offers an industrial maintenance certificate and a degree in electrical technology — provide ideal resources for manufacturers interested in starting or expanding apprenticeship programs. Traditional apprenticeships have existed for centuries, but employer-driven programs combining structured on-the-job training with classroom instruction have grown in popularity in many fields such as advanced manufacturing.
All manufacturers in the area will be able to take advantage of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute to support their apprenticeship programs. Kimura says the facility will be an especially good fit since many of them were involved in supporting development of the curriculum and providing feedback on the facility’s design.
While the institute will allow students to develop skills and training needed to be successful in manufacturing, Durant says the facility offers an important opportunity to expose students to the possibility of a career in manufacturing just as the college does with other fields such as health care or criminal justice.
“It has the opportunity to expose youth and other individuals to what modern manufacturing really is,” he says. “We want to create the programming and exposure for youth to understand what it can be and give people a sense of is this for them.”
“The more that we can help build that awareness and provide baseline training, that helps regardless of whatever training might happen on the job.”
The Advanced Manufacturing Institute is scheduled to open in late 2021 or early 2022.