Bringing students and industrial employers together was the aim of an Advanced Manufacturing Job Fair at Southeastern Community College Thursday.
“These companies are looking for workers with the right skills, and we have students who are getting those skills,” said SCC President Tony Clarke, explaining that most of the companies represented were focused on electrical engineering and mechatronics.
Clarke said the career fair grew out of the college’s Columbus County Industry Group, which is made up of area manufacturers, some of which struggle to fill positions when they advertise job openings.
The fair was organized by Vice President for Workforce and Community Development Beverlee Nance and Vice President for Student Services Sylvia Cox in addition to the faculty of the electrical engineering technology, mechatronic engineering technology and welding programs, Clarke said.
Heather Lewis and Whitney Tyler of Atlantic Packaging in Tabor City were set up at the job fair and displayed some of the products the company manufactures. They explained that many students at the fair may be interested in working outside as a lineman, but Atlantic Packaging offers design, printing, structuring and machine running jobs that create packages from start to finish.
“We also came to the high school fair back in November, and we had a lot of South Columbus students not know who we are or where we’re located,” Lewis said. “So we’re here to give more visibility to our potential workforce who want to stay in Columbus County and be near their families because we offer on-site job training.”
Lewis and Tyler explained that a lot has changed over the past 10 years and jobs are available at Atlantic Packaging, but the challenging part is letting people know they exist and finding employees wanting to work.
“I think we’re having trouble finding people who are willing to work — to show up every day,” Tyler said. “Sometimes we get people who don’t want to stay and work the whole day, so we need people with motivation to work.”
Electrical engineering student Josh Snyder said he came back to school after leaving it for 10 years to work in the prison system. Now with a wife, kids and safety concerns, Snyder decided to return and finish his degree. He felt confident in finding work after graduating from SCC and felt like the job fair helped him decide what he wants to do.
“Electricity is in almost everything, so I could work in almost anything,” Snyder said. “And here, they’re showing us how to do it all from the small circuits in cell phones to the large stuff in industrial factories.”
With the recent merger of NCI Building Systems and Ply Gem Siding Group, Plant Manager Tony Rogowski in Fair Bluff said the newly formed Cornerstone Building Brands was now the largest manufacturer of exterior building products. Located on the southernmost area of Fair Bluff near the armory, the company was not affected by Hurricane Matthew or Florence floodwaters. He explained that the operation in Fair Bluff specializes in making fence and rail profiles.
Rogowski said the former Ply Gem was the first company to partner with SCC’s internship program and has provided internships for three SCC students, one of whom has become a full-time employee.
“We’re looking for more people to join on the operations side, but we’ll never turn away a good maintenance associate because they don’t just come knocking on your door,” Rogowski said. “Yes, we are hiring.”
Derrick Bennett of West Fraser lumber company in Riegelwood said he was looking for anyone willing to work in maintenance, fire watch, and operate heavy equipment — basically anyone who wants to come in and learn from the ground up. He said that since the economy is good, it’s hard to attract employees with competitors picking from the same pool of jobseekers.
“Bring that energy,” Bennett said. “Bring that talent and come in to replace us older guys who are getting ready to retire.”