South Carolina boasts more than 5,000 manufacturing businesses in the state, whose average wages of $54,444 account for $25 billion of income statewide. Companies like Boeing, Volvo Cars, Mercedes Vans, their suppliers, and many others in the Charleston area are growing the manufacturing base even further.
Governor Henry McMaster proclaimed the first week of October “SC Manufacturing Week.” The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the American Society for Quality (ASQ), and the Lowcountry Graduate Center partnered to host the Lowcountry Manufacturing and Quality Expo on October 3 and 4 at the Lowcountry Graduate Center.
Included in the Expo was a Career Panel for interested high school and undergraduate students wishing to learn more about job opportunities in advanced manufacturing in the region. Nancy Muller, director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center, moderated the discussion.
These were some of the highlights:
Kathy Parnell, a veteran of 35 years in quality manufacturing and now Business Quality Director for the turbocharger business at Cummins Inc. in North Charleston, told the assembled students that a quality engineer’s job is that of detective.
These are the questions she encouraged them to ask: “What are the problems? What are the causes? What can I do to make sure the customer is protected?”
Jim Thompson, founder of Concentric Global, a consulting firm that advises automotive and aeronautical manufacturers in process optimization, recalled his internal agony upon witnessing an inefficient sandwich-making process that had customers backed up waiting for service at a sub shop. “There is a huge demand for quality engineers at very nice pay range. If you don’t like to stand in line at a (ballgame), this is for you.”
Darrell Tasker wowed the crowd with his bachelor’s degree in quality engineering from Southwestern College in Kansas, one of the few in the nation. The Research and Technology Manager for Advanced Inspection Technology at Boeing, Tasker described Boeing aircraft as “Cadillacs” when many airlines prefer to buy “Fords.”
“We’re now trying to build less expensive aircrafts without sacrificing quality,” he said. The 787s built in North Charleston are fabricated with composite materials, requiring inspections at every step. The company is learning how to conduct inspections without interfering in the process of assembly to reduce time and cost. “Ninety-nine percent quality is not good enough for airplanes,” he noted.
As regional vice president for the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Brian Kuney helps manufacturing companies improve various elements of their business. Kuney began his professional career as a draftsman. He warned students that no matter what they study, they will be in the business of change. “If I were still a draftsman, drawing by hand, I’d have been out of a job 20 years ago.”
At the Mercedes-Benz Vans plant in Ladson, recruiting talented engineers is an ongoing issue. As a member of the HR team, Karl Krull enlists paid interns for the plant and grooms them for permanent jobs in the company. He offered various pieces of expert advice to students, and finished with this: “Expect to build relationships. You can have the best idea in the world but if you don’t have a good relationship with your team, that idea will go nowhere.”
Blair Healey was one of those interns while majoring in supply chain management at College of Charleston. He graduated into a full-time job at the plant. Healey said he always tried to add value to whatever he was doing. “Show some initiative,” he advised for students eager to land an internship while in school. “That’s all they’re really looking for.”
Dick Tiano, an event organizer and co-host as President of the Charleston-based state chapter of the worldwide Society of Manufacturing Engineers, exhorted good students and their advisors to consider careers in quality manufacturing. “Parents, educators and guidance counselors often believe manufacturing is dead and dirty. That’s outmoded thinking. We have to change that perception.”
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