ASHEBORO, NC -- Where are the skilled technical workers?

It's a question manufacturers have been asking, as they struggle to find skilled employees to fill a growing number of jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates over the next decade, the manufacturing industry will need 3.5 million jobs.

Several Triad colleges like Randolph Community College (RCC) are trying to counter the manufacturing dilemma. RCC has several technical programs and has expanded student opportunities through internships at local companies.

"I've been in the real world, I know what it's like," said RCC Computer Numerical Machining (CNM) student Stephen Yontz.

Yontz tried the four-year college route before finding his path to RCC.

"There's so many kids today going to a four-year college or six-year school. Coming out, they have a lot of student debt, and they're not making a lot of money," he said.

Perhaps that's why school statistics show a troubling trend.

Data shows RCC technical class enrollment dropped by nearly 200 students last year. Statewide among community colleges, it dropped 9,000. The irony? Technical job openings increased by 8,000 in one year -- from 317,000 in 2015 to 325,000 in 2016.

"I think a lot of folks are not aware of the opportunities they have," said RCC technical program division chair Mitchell Kiser.

RCC's technical classes, equipped with workshops, expose students to not only the hands-on skill set but also the pay. Most advanced manufacturing jobs have starting salaries of $13 to $17 an hour or $30,000 a year.

"Someone can come out of here with a two-year associate's degree and start making as much as most of your folks with a four-year liberal arts degree and in several cases, several thousand dollars higher," Kiser said.

But higher dollars hinge on hiring people -- trained people. And it could be up to them to save the manufacturing industry's future from its past.

To spur early interest in manufacturing programs, RCC is working on launching an apprenticeship program for high schoolers. GTCC and Guilford County Schools already have one. Learn more here.

Interested in RCC's technical programs? Learn more here.