CSCC and Industry Partners Shape the Future of Modern Manufacturing in Central Ohio

Published on Feb 13, 2019

Updated on Feb 20, 2024

Written by Remie Verougstraete


  • Columbus State Community College (CSCC) in Columbus, Ohio, is collaborating with major employers like Honda to address the region’s advanced manufacturing skills gap.

  • Close industry partnerships result in relevant curriculum and meaningful work experience for students, who become in-demand, career-ready graduates.

  • CSCC’s advanced manufacturing work study program also provides a cost-effective pathway to a bachelor’s degree, via university partnerships, for students who wish to continue their education.

  • Some employers have even reduced the minimum required education for certain jobs from bachelors to associate degree because of the proven competency of CSCC’s alumni.

  • CSCC is preparing students to thrive in the age of automation by teaching the high-tech skills that modern manufacturers need.

Shaping the future of modern manufacturing

If manufacturing is dead, someone forgot to tell Jeff Spain and the students in the Modern Manufacturing Work Study program at Columbus State Community College (CSCC).

What began as a pilot program with a mere seven students in 2013 has grown to a cohort of 110 this past year. Industry partners include major multi-national corporations like Honda, Target, Nestle, and Worthington Industries. The program is well-respected, in-demand, and poised for further growth.

Spain is the supervisor of workforce innovation at CSCC, which serves just over 25,000 students in central Ohio. He was instrumental in the collaboration between industry partners and college leadership that led to the creation of the modern manufacturing work study program (and continues to spur others like it). The success of this approach, and the graduates it produces, is impacting how community members and industry partners alike think about education-to-career pathways.

Data-driven program development

Jeff Spain. PC: Columbus State

As a public institution, Columbus State Community College takes their responsibility to steward tax payer dollars seriously. This means that when they start a new program, it’s typically a multi-year process. In the early stages, they use labor market data from Analyst and other sources to develop an economic forecast for particular jobs in their region. This data helps validate and provide context for the input they receive from employers, and can help Spain and his team identify overlaps between faculty expertise and skill gaps in their region. Most of all, it provides an objective, informed basis for decision-making going forward.

This data-driven process proved especially important for starting a manufacturing program, given the common misperception that manufacturing is a dead (or dying) industry. For example, when a local news station ran a story on the decline of manufacturing jobs, Spain’s team leveraged their access to comprehensive labor market data in Analyst to show the bigger picture. While it was true that some manufacturing jobs had declined, overall manufacturing output was at an all-time high and the median wage for workers in those jobs had gone up.

Furthermore, the specific skills taught in the CSCC program qualified students for jobs that were more advanced (and higher-paying) than what most people think of when they picture manufacturing work. “It’s not the 1950s and manufacturing looks significantly different than it used to,” said Spain. “Many of these students will use a laptop just as much as they’ll use a wrench.”

Informed by industry

CSCC grad and Honda employee Anton Dela Fuente. PC: Columbus State

While labor market data provides a necessary foundation, the actual work of building strategic programs also requires strong personal relationships with local employers. Spain and the team at CSCC take employer input very seriously and work hard to customize their programs to meet the unique needs of their partners. Sometimes this means modifying curriculum in ways that faculty might not have otherwise anticipated. For example, one of the college’s partners is a high-end pharmaceutical company that does not allow any welding on their premises. But, the company does require knowledge of industrial sterilization and sanitation practices. In response, CSCC adjusted their curriculum to allow for a sanitation elective to take the place of a more traditional manufacturing class like welding.

For students to benefit from that level of customization, they have to understand how the unique needs of employers map to their academic plan, so they can take the courses relevant to their professional goals. To ensure that this connection happens, CSCC has a dedicated academic completion advisor, Dr. Nichole Braun, who meets with every student in the manufacturing work study program and goes with Spain to visit their employer partners. It requires a lot of time and effort, but represents the kind of dedication, collaboration, and flexibility that is increasingly important as technology and the needs of employers continue to evolve.

Creating win-win partnerships

Beyond influencing curriculum, industry partners also play a critical role in the work study component of CSCC’s Modern Manufacturing program. The program is open to students in three majors: Electronic Engineering, Electro-Mechanical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering Technology. Participants undergo traditional classroom instruction two days a week, and then work on-site with an employer for the remaining three days.

CSCC absorbs the full cost of the program and does not charge any kind of fee for employers to participate. Instead, Spain asks employers to make four key commitments.

  1. Provide the student with a meaningful work experience. By the time students enter the work-study portion of the program, they’ve already had one year of classroom training under their belt, and it’s important that their education continue through the hands-on portion of the program. “I want them to show up and be able to use some of their knowledge, skills, and ability,” said Spain.

  2. Provide students with a mentor. As Spain explained, this is “not someone to hold their hand, but someone who is available to provide guidance and support on both the cultural aspects of an organization and the technical skills.”

  3. Pay the student a fair wage. In 2018, the average wage for students participating in the program was $17.76/hr. Having a paid work-study opportunity means more students can focus on their studies without having to find additional, unrelated work just to stay afloat financially. It also means they can graduate with less debt.

  4. Help spread the word. Spain asks industry partners to participate in recruitment activities. This not only makes outreach events more effective, but also reinforces that the employers are true partners in this project and not just passive consumers of talent.

Evolving employer attitudes

Perhaps the greatest testament to the program’s success is the impact it’s had on employer attitudes and hiring practices in central Ohio. For example, many of the advanced manufacturing positions at plants in the Columbus region have historically required at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like mechanical or electrical engineering. But Spain and his team have helped a number of employers conduct a detailed job analysis to determine that CSCC’s associate programs are in fact an appropriate level of education for many entry level positions.

“We went through in great detail to show the learning objectives and outcomes of our curriculum at the associate degree level,” said Spain.

As a result, many employers, including Honda, have adjusted their hiring criteria to reflect the sufficiency of an associate degree.

Source: – posting for Equipment Service / Die Service Technician co-op position

Employers have also become more open to offering part-time positions to students. When Spain first started talking to employers, they admitted that they were having trouble hiring qualified workers, but they weren’t necessarily ready to change the way they’d traditionally done things. Many were hesitant to offer part-time positions when what they really wanted (and were accustomed to having) was someone working a full 40 hours a week. Nevertheless, some employers adapted existing internship or co-op positions to fit with CSCC’s work-study program. Others have gone farther by creating new requisitions specifically for CSCC work-study students. So far, the experiment is working.

“What helped was when we were able to go back and start demonstrating through data that these students for the most part stayed at the company where they did their work study—that they could ultimately be retained for a longer period of time,” said Spain.

The work study program has proved to be a mutually beneficial trial period where both the employer and the student learn about the technical and cultural dimensions of working together. As a result, Spain estimates that roughly 90% of students wind up accepting a full-time position with the company where they do their work study (and the other 10% find work elsewhere; the program currently has a 100% job placement rate). These successful outcomes help to both recruit new students to the program and further demonstrate the sufficiency of the associate degree for employer’s needs.

Changing community perceptions

Establishing curriculum and securing industry partnerships are major milestones on the road to program success. But as every director of enrollment knows, offering a program is one thing. Getting students to enroll is another.

While many students were interested in the opportunity to take a more hands-on approach to their education, there was still concern (especially among parents) that a degree in manufacturing could only lead to dead-end jobs in a dying industry.  To address this misperception, Spain and his team at CSCC take a proactive approach to community engagement.  This includes teaming up with industry partners to visit area high schools and share about a “day in the life” of a modern manufacturing facility.

They’ve also produced a series of videos featuring faculty, students, and industry partners to help community members get a better idea of what the programs and work experiences are like. Select high school underclassman may also participate in the Advanced Automation Institute, which serves as a summer on-ramp to CSCC’s manufacturing program, complete with company tours and a hands-on introduction to some of the core concepts that will be covered in class.

One major on-campus outreach initiative is the annual Manufacturing Night. This event gives prospective students and their parents a chance to visit campus, ask questions, and address the full spectrum of issues related to their college and major decision.  The evening involves a three-part presentation where attendees get to hear from current program participants who provide an insider’s view of the first-year student experience. Then, faculty members address the academic requirements for the program, explaining required courses and how they relate to the work experience component. They also explain the various degree options, including several Preferred Pathway agreements with 4-yr institutions that allow students to apply their CSCC credits to a full bachelor’s degree. The evening concludes with speakers from industry partners who talk about the career opportunities and professional pathways that await program completers.

Learning to work, working to learn

For some students and their parents, it’s bachelor’s degree or bust, no matter how good the employment opportunities are at the associate degree level.  Even for these families, Spain points out that the modern manufacturing work study program can be a great opportunity.  As many Columbus State students have experienced, a hands-on, job-oriented associate degree and a full, four-year bachelor’s degree are not mutually exclusive. In fact, for students who start out at CSCC and then transfer to one of the college’s university partners, the work study program offers a pathway with less debt and more work experience.

CSCC’s Preferred Pathway partners. Source:

Spain noted, “We’ve found that a number of the companies, after they hire an individual, will then sponsor that individual to continue their education through tuition reimbursement.”

The additional experience gained through work study can also make the bachelor’s more meaningful once it’s obtained. CSCC graduates who have accumulated several years of work experience by the time they finish their second degree are often prime candidates for promotion. “It truly does set students up for future leadership positions or supervisory positions within their industry,” said Spain.

Automation and opportunity

These days, whenever manufacturing comes up, so does automation—and the fear that as automation spreads, jobs will disappear. Spain acknowledges that the trend towards automation is real and can have a significant impact on jobs in the manufacturing industry. But he points to two factors that demonstrate the continued relevance of CSCC’s advanced manufacturing program.

First, automation is not as automatic as some would think. It involves significant capital investments and brings an increased risk of downtime due to technical failure. In fact, some executives have told Spain that they would gladly invest in employees rather than robots if only they could find enough workers with the right skills—like those now being trained at CSCC.

Second, as automation replaces some jobs, it creates others. As a result, even companies that do invest heavily in advanced automation are still hiring—they are just hiring differently. More technological expertise is required, as well as different combinations of skills that defy traditional siloed approaches to training and education. Far from rendering CSCC’s manufacturing programs obsolete, these changes highlight the value of programs like modern manufacturing that adapt and grow through technological change. In close collaboration with industry partners, CSCC is providing students with the technical skills they need to work with new technology rather than being replaced by it.

“The job market will continue to change. That’s something that we know to be true,” said Spain. “We just need to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that we’re training people to be ready.”

To learn more about the rise of high-skill, high-wage production jobs, check out Manufacturing is Not Dead, a research report from Lightcast (then Emsi). If you have questions or ideas about how Lightcast data can serve your school’s mission, please contact us.  We’d love to hear from you!