By Greg Oliver
LIBERTY - Brandon Hall and John Hayes, who recently graduated from Daniel High School, will both attend Greenville Technical College this fall to pursue mechatronics degrees they say will open up numerous career opportunities.
In fact, Hayes is already gaining valuable experiences through his employment at Cornell Dubilier, an international electronics manufacturer based in the Liberty. Hayes, who began working at the plant through a co-op program during his senior year, recently gained full-time employment and earns $25,000 per year.
"I wouldn't mind staying there and morning up in the ranks," Hayes said, adding he would like to use the mechatronics degree from Greenville Tech to become either a laser welder or automated spinner.
Hall plans to work with his father on a project through Clemson University. He also plans to use his future mechatronics degree to land a job at a local plant, such as BMW or Bosch.
"Mechatronics is a growing business," Hayes said. "There are so many components and subjects you can go to because you learn a little bit of everything. You can work all kinds of places with a mechatronics degree. When these machines break down, you've got to be able to troubleshoot."
Mechatronics is a process that combines electrical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical and control engineering to create and program machines to perform tasks. Originally, mechatronics included on the combination of mechanics and electronics, but as technical systems have become more complex, it now includes more technical areas.
The Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty offers mechatronics among its many courses. Hall said he initially became interested in mechatronics "because a lot of my friends were taking it." But even after all of their other friends dropped out, Hall and Hayes ended up staying in the course after they discovered how much they enjoyed it.
"I really like fixing things and doing hands-on work with minimum bookwork," Hall said.
Hayes said he also enjoys the constant, hands-on work.
"You're not doing the same thing every day - it's high-end maintenance work," Hayes said.
Hank Hutto, the mechatronics teacher at the Career and Technology Center, said Hall and Hayes "are the kind of students the career center and industry needs."
"Teaching soft skills and the 'can-do' attitude they have is half my battle," Hutto said. "That's why both students, as of today, have good-paying jobs and will go far in life."
The soft skills described by Hutto are simply workplace expectations that include showing up for work, getting to work on time, and exhibiting proper behavior on the job.
"Mr. Hutto taught us that being on time means being 10 minutes early," Hayes said. "I prefer to be 15 minute early if I can, so, that way, I can get ahead if it's a big job."
Hall and Hayes put their skills to work earlier this summer in Kansas City, Mo., when they won bronze in the mechatronics competition as part of Skills USA's 48th Annual National Leadership and Skills Conference. Prior to the national competition, Hall and Hayes led Pickens County to its sixth consecutive Skills USA mechatronics title in South Carolina.
Hutto said the pair was among 14 teams that competed, but was the only duo representing Pickens County in the national competition. He called their bronze medal "awesome."
"That's something that can never be taken away from them," Hutto said. "That's something to always think about."
Hutto said he stresses to students the importance of working hard and earning a quality living. Hayes said when he first began the full-time employment, there were things he wanted "to splurge on" but has since learned to put some money in the bank each payday.
"I did order more tires for my truck, but I've always been taught to keep money in the bank," Hayes said. "I've gotten to the point where I've matured a little more to be able to think down the road instead of just now."
"I used to work in a grocery store and I now I come in to work and say 'I remember those minimum-wage days.' Hard work pays off.
Hall said that while work is important, a college degree is even more so.
"You've got the rest of your life to work," Hall said.