Beginning this fall, Community College of Baltimore County students will be able to sign up for a degree that school officials say will prepare them for a career in some of the region's fastest-growing fields.
CCBC's two-year, 60-credit design, fabrication and advanced manufacturing associate of applied science degree will require students to study skills like digital design, rapid prototyping, production, computer-aided machining, 21st century manufacturing strategy and technology commercialization, according to a release from the school.
With the new program, said Doug Kendzierski, interim assistant dean of CCBC's School of Applied and Information Technology, the school is hoping to become a leader in an emerging professional field.
While the work of building the curriculum has taken the past year-and-half, Kendzierski said he and other faculty have spent the past six years talking to people in the manufacturing field to determine what kinds of skills are most important to teach students.
Throughout the conversations, he said, it became apparent that the industry has very much changed, and companies are looking for a new kind of employee.
Today's manufacturing companies are "not your father's or your grandfather's manufacturing shop," he said. "They demand a higher-tech, more polished and educated individual."
The new degree will deliver that and more, he said.
In addition to teaching students how to break into the manufacturing field, the courses will also encourage students to develop their own companies by teaching not only the skills needed to work in the industry but also advanced business skills, like securing venture capital and applying for patents and trademarks.
"We are really looking to be a complete resource for people who are looking to go all the way with this," Kendzierski said. "I think we're right there on the edge with this."
The new program will make use of the school's Fab Lab, a nonprofit fabrication lab opened on the school's campus in 2011. With its laser cutters, 3-D printers and other tools, the lab will allow students to experience the most cutting-edge side of manufacturing, said Ken Burch, director of CCBC's Technology and Innovation in Manufacturing and Engineering (TIME) Center.
CCBC's hope, Burch said, is that the lab will also help to break down some of the stigma that has plagued the manufacturing industry in recent years.
Recent generations of parents have discouraged their children from going into a field they perceived as dirty and hazardous, he said. As a result, the industry has been starved of fresh talent.
"The world of manufacturing has changed," he said. "It's almost all computerized."
The new program is geared toward those with an interest in manufacturing and a strong academic background, he said.
Gone are the days when those in the field spent all day doing the same task over and over again, he said.
Rather, graduates of the new program will likely find themselves doing any combination of inventing, designing, fabricating and producing when they enter the workforce. Today's small and medium-sized companies need people who can perform multiple functions, he said, and within the next couple years, many of those companies will be using the same high-tech machinery CCBC students will have spent two years working on.
"If we are effective in integrating all of [the skills], I think the job market will open up for them," Burch said, adding that students will graduate from the program ready to work at a number of different companies.
Kendzierski said the response from the manufacturing professionals he and others from the school met with in the process of developing the new program has been encouraging.
"They're dying for this type of thing," he said. "This will re-image what manufacturing has become."