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Students to meet the new face of manufacturing

Manufacturers are looking to attract a new crop of young workers to fill 21st-century jobs — many of which require advanced skill sets.  Local manufacturing companies will meet with high school students for just that purpose at two separate events on Friday, National Manufacturing Day.

Gaston College will host the third annual Advanced Manufacturing Career Expo at the Myers Center on the Dallas campus.  About 400 students from Gaston public high schools, as well as college students, will attend the event. They’ll meet with representatives from more than a dozen Gaston-area businesses, such as American & Efird, Pharr Yarns, Aptar Group Inc., Daimler Trucks and Firestone Fibers & Textiles Company. Students will learn about each company, along with the skills and qualifications necessary for employment.

 “This is an opportunity for them to get in front of industry leaders and business owners and staff that want to give them an opportunity,” said Cindy Easterday, human resources director for American & Efird, a global textiles company with its headquarters and several plants in Gaston. “We need good people, and every company out there is competing to some degree for good employees.”

Lincoln County high school students will spend the day touring the Aptar, Blum, Cataler and Timken manufacturing plants. The tours are for students enrolled in advanced manufacturing classes. The students will learn about the companies and job opportunities.

Easterday said part of the goal is to show students that the manufacturing industry has come a long way since the dirty work environments and back-breaking labor of yesteryear. Her company manufactures threads that are used in everything from car seats to apparel to NFL footballs to Coach handbags to fiber optic cable. Though the thread-making process still involves manual labor, many of the jobs have become automated and require the use of advanced technology.

 “We do digital color matching, we communicate around the world with our websites and internal bases, and there’s a lot of chemistry involved in our process,” Easterday said. “We need folks that might be mechanically inclined but some of those jobs still require computer use.”

Easterday says the company is constantly striving to improve the work environment.  American & Efird recently discovered that one of its factory machines was too labor-intensive for workers of small stature. Workers had to lift packages that were simply too high to safely grab. The problem caused high worker turnover, which prompted the company to make a change.

“We reconstructed the whole machine to make it eye-level, and we took the labor-intensive work out of the job,” said Easterday. “We’re constantly trying to make our jobs more user-friendly.”

Students at the career expo will receive a crashcourse from Gaston College instructor Steve Curtis on how to sell themselves to employers. Curtis, who teaches courses that prepare students for the workplace, will speak in several 15-minute sessions about interview and workplace skills, such as demonstrating strong work ethic, being a team player and showing professionalism. He wants students to learn how to make a positive first impression.

“It’s like meeting a girlfriend or boyfriend’s mom or dad. There’s a special way you approach an employer in an interview,” said Curtis. “They need to understand the things employers are looking for.”

Easterday agrees that employee accountability is paramount to an employer. Though workplace environments have improved in the textiles industry, she says employee work ethic seems to have suffered over the years. She hopes students will come away from the expo with a sense of how to improve that.

“We can teach the skills, but to be able to get along with people and show they care and want to work — that’s what is most important,” she said.

Other breakout sessions offered at the expo will focus on career pathways from high school to the workplace or to higher education and how to apply and pay for college.

By Eric Wildstein ewildstein@gastongazette.com ?

You can reach Eric Wildstein at 704-869-1828 or Twitter.com? / TheGazetteEric.

Original article posted by the Gaston Gazette and can be accessed at: http://www.gastongazette.com/article/20150930/NEWS/150939864/0/SEARCH

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