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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, May 27, 2013, 5:30 am

CSU, Chico leads way with ‘sustainable’ degree

By Gino DiCaro

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    Manufacturing got technical over the last few decades. It got harder. It’s paying more. It’s more innovative. It’s “advanced”, and In California it has to be tremendously efficient to compete. It must constantly improve and account for the end-of-life of its products.

    California State University at Chico has answered the state’s call by providing one of only three programs in the world that offers a four-year degree in “Sustainable Manufacturing”. This program is in part filling a massive and growing California void of industrially trained students that can go from the production floor to management soon after graduating from college.

    The Chico program has a whopping 100 percent job placement success rate and 15 percent of their graduates are women. The average initial pay is $54,000 and sometimes starts as high as $76,000.

    No, these students don’t often put on a tie and go look important in a cubicle. They have real knowledge and skills. They go on to make the highly innovative products that California has been famous for engineering and producing. They create solutions to real-world problems and tend to the evolution of those solutions within companies with lots of employees. They often end up in high managerial positions for extremely successful manufacturers.

    Specifically the “Sustainable Manufacturing” program at Chico is an integrated field of study that combines technical feasibility with environmental responsibility and economic viability. You might think the word “sustainable” is just another packaging of the buzz term “green” but it’s not. The degree focuses on making sure the students understand business viability for the manufacturing of a product. That means keeping the business operating, growing and competitive, as well as focusing on successful end-of-life dynamics for a product. The program is both lecture-based as well as hands-on in laboratories with industrial grade machinery.

    The leader of the program, Daren Otten said, “with this program we are addressing California manufacturing workforce needs with technically educated Californians who understand the challenges and opportunities associated with doing business in the state.”

    While Chico is doing great things, the shortage of hands-on education in California is systemic at the university level and even more importantly at the high school level. Less than 30 percent of our high school students ever get to take a hands-on course. Exposure to these skills and real-world learning in the teen years could drive a larger movement of success and interest among our future workers and provide colleges like Chico with students who are willing to dive into the opportunities that manufacturing provides. If more universities offered programs like the one at Chico, our high-wage manufacturers would have access to a larger pool of talent to grow their efficient production facilities in California.

    CMTA tips its hat to Cal State Chico in developing a program that could be the leading edge of future manufacturing training programs.

    Gino DiCaro, is vice president of communications for the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, 916-498-3347, cmta.org.

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