Clemson University on Thursday will celebrate the grand opening of its new Vehicle Assembly Center, designed to meet the demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce.
“We wanted to look at a new way to educate people in the manufacturing of vehicles, or the manufacturing of anything, and look at it all the way from the base materials to the final assembly of the largest component — in this case, a vehicle,” BMW Endowed Chair in Advanced Manufacturing Laine Mears said.
The facility is located inside the Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Greenville Tech. Clemson graduate students with the International Center for Automotive Research will work alongside Greenville Tech students gaining practical experience. The line can be adjusted for students to assemble anything, not just vehicles.
“I am excited about this,” Mears said. “It’s a new way to bring the right people together.”
Mears said it’s a unique opportunity for future engineers and manufacturing employees to learn and work together.
“Let’s have a cohesive program that really reaches out to the technical college system and engages graduate students and undergraduates to do some of this practical development,” he said. “We’re also going to provide top-notch engineers and key workforce people that are engaged and educated in the new technologies that they’re going to see tomorrow.”
He said the program helps South Carolina provide the manufacturing workforce demanded by companies worldwide.
“This is a nationwide problem, and honestly, it’s an international problem,” he said. “It’s a crisis situation. In the next few years you’re going to see it’s become tougher and tougher to find workers. And as more companies come into the state you’re going to see the same thing.”
Part of the mission is to change the perception that manufacturing jobs are unskilled, dangerous or low-wage.
“We’re trying to change the way people are looking at it,” Mears said. “It’s a new way of doing things. It is computer science, programming, a lot of software, very deep understanding of higher technologies. We have to take it beyond the people turning wrenches on the floor. When we’re talking about workforce, we have to talk about the whole workforce spectrum.”
He said studies show there could be two million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2035.
“There’s just not enough workforce to support this revitalization of manufacturing in the country,” he said. ‘Every one of them pays really well right now. So you could have a really good job. You will always have a job in manufacturing. It’s not going to go away anytime soon.”