East Mississippi Community College's Communiversity opened to students Aug. 19 and is dedicated to training students for careers in advanced manufacturing.

August 29, 2019

There is nothing quite like East Mississippi Community College’s Communiversity in the Southeast and, perhaps, in the nation.

Its potential as an educational facility, workforce development driver, business incubator and economic stimulator is tremendous.

At its core, the $42 million facility that opened to students Aug. 19 was designed and equipped to train students for careers in today’s state-of-the-art manufacturing environments where advanced robotics and automation are the new norm.

Six programs are offered at the Communiversity that lead to Associate of Applied Science degrees. They are: Precision Machining & Manufacturing; Engineering Drafting & Design; Electro-Mechanical Technology; Mechatronics Technology; Industrial Maintenance; and Systems Based Automation.

These are cutting-edge programs for training in new manufacturing processes that are transforming mass production and disrupting labor markets. That change presents both challenges and opportunities.

While some have long bemoaned the offshoring of plants and mills that relied heavily on physical labor, the fact is that automated processes and technology-driven production are actually helping make the U.S. an attractive option as manufacturers look to expand production.

America can’t compete with third world countries for inexpensive manual labor but we can rise to meet the new demand for highly trained employees to operate sophisticated machinery.

And the demand is real. In 2018, 264,000 new manufacturing jobs were added in the U.S., the highest number recorded since 1988, according to MarketWatch. In fact, predictions are that the U.S. will soon face a critical shortage of skilled labor in modern manufacturing.EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks

According to a 2018 study published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, roughly 60 percent of the anticipated 3.4 million advanced manufacturing jobs to be added in the U.S. over the next decade will go unfilled due to a lack of trained workers. That represents a critical 2 million shortfall nationwide of workers needed for advanced manufacturing processes.

That is important to those of us who call the Golden Triangle home because of the opportunity it represents for our students and for our region. Our students are in demand and a key component of site selection by manufacturers looking to open a new plant is the availability of a skilled workforce.

EMCC has already garnered a reputation over the years for working closely with area industries to provide training that meets their real-world demand for skilled labor. The Communiversity will expand upon that role.

Our Communiversity Advisory Board includes representatives from area industries, while experts in their respective fields provide feedback on our course curriculum. The Communiversity offers “soft landing” space for new companies interested in locating to the region, with available office spaces, conference areas and training bays.

The equipment our students are trained on is cutting edge and, in many cases, mirrors that found on local manufacturing floors. We have dedicated space for displays by area manufacturers and will be working closely with our K-12 partners to promote STEM fields to our emerging workforce.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 146,000 manufacturing jobs in the state of Mississippi as of July 2019 and our partners at the local and state levels are working hard to improve those numbers. The National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University reports that manufacturing is one of the highest paying industries in the state, with employees earning an average annual salary of $53,000.

Those are jobs that strengthen the economy by providing stable employment to residents who, in turn, contribute tax dollars to our local and state governments. The Communiversity will play a key role in ensuring our residents are prepared to fill those jobs while serving as an economic engine and workforce driver well into the future.

Dr. Scott Alsobrooks , President, East Mississippi Community College