Recently, the NFL conducted its annual draft. If you've ever watched it, you know there's much fanfare and excitement surrounding the announcement of who's chosen for which team. The room goes quiet and all eyes are on the commissioner as he reads the name of the next person selected for a high-paying career in professional football. These careers are life changing for players and their families.

Here in the real world, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM) recently held a signing day of our own. On May 17, all across the commonwealth, KCTCS grads and employers took part in the first Kentucky Manufacturing Going Pro Signing Day celebrating rookies in advanced manufacturing who ceremonially signed on for their first professional job. Although they won't make millions like NFL players do, these graduates are beginning careers with good salaries that can be life changing.

In today's world of work, manufacturing requires workers to be tech savvy. This is no longer your grandfather's dirty, dark and dangerous factory work. Today's manufacturing facilities are bright, clean and high tech. You'll see employees using consoles to direct the work of robots, instead of doing back-breaking manual labor.

Manufacturing is a substantial part of Kentucky's economy as these numbers from KAM show:

• 250,000 jobs.

• 4,500 manufacturing facilities.

• $40 billion or 20 percent of the state's GDP.

• $29.2 billion Kentucky-made exports.

• Third in U.S. auto production.

Every year, KCTCS prepares Kentuckians to go pro in high-paying careers in advanced manufacturing that lead to a better life. In the last year alone, more than 2,600 students graduated from our advanced manufacturing programs.

Despite that, there are 8,000 related job openings in this field, second only to the number of open jobs in health care. The existing jobs vs. existing workforce deficit is growing as manufacturers expand and add new projects and baby boomers retire. In short, this field is wide open for those with the right skill set.

A high school diploma is no longer enough to get a job in advanced manufacturing. Employers need people who have specific training and industry credentials, which is why the 16 colleges of KCTCS work with local companies to develop programs students need to get hired in their community.

KCTCS offers seven programs that support advanced manufacturing: industrial maintenance technology; computerized machining and manufacturing; welding technology; engineering and electronics technology; electrical technology; computer assisted drafting; and air conditioning technology.

One of the most highly sought-after programs our colleges offer are the advanced manufacturing technician programs through the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME). FAME students graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Industrial Maintenance Technology: Advanced Manufacturing Technology in five semesters.

They attend college two, eight-hour days a week and work at least 24 hours a week at the sponsoring company. They earn 16-18 college credits per semester in classes that integrate safety, lean manufacturing, communication, teamwork and other skills into topics such as fluid power, maintaining industrial equipment, electrical motor controls, robotics, hydraulics and welding. Most FAME students earn $12-$17.50 while they are going to school. Nearly 90 percent of FAME students are hired by their sponsoring companies.

Across the state, KCTCS has more than 400 advanced manufacturing partners and 135 partners that offer work and learn experiences through KY FAME. Eleven KCTCS colleges participate in FAME and others are preparing to do so.

Going pro in advanced manufacturing is an important step toward a better life and a better community. That's why we believe it is important to recognize those who've accomplished this and shine a light on today's manufacturing jobs. It's also why we plan to make this an annual statewide event.

Whether you're a recent high school graduate or a working adult, a career in advanced manufacturing is worth a look. We invite you to learn more about programs KCTCS offers and about the members of KAM and KY FAME.

Dr. Jay K. Box is the president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Lee Lingo is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers.

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