Engineering program providing good jobs for graduates in Kentucky

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) launched a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering in 2023 to help fill companies fill jobs.

By Elise Russell June 28, 2024
Ken Tinnell, president of TIDAS Automation and board member of the Kentucky Manufacturing Extension Program (KY MEP). Courtesy: Eastern Kentucky University

Manufacturing, workforce development insights

  • Eastern Kentucky University’s (EKU’s) new manufacturing engineering program aims to meet Kentucky’s workforce needs and secure career paths for students in the state.
  • Ken Tinnell from TIDAS Automation believes EKU’s program can retain talent, boosting Kentucky’s status as a top U.S. manufacturing state.

According to Ken Tinnell, president of TIDAS Automation and board member of the Kentucky Manufacturing Extension Program (KY MEP), there are more than 5,000 manufacturers in the state, from the small manufacturer with a few employees to the larger manufacturers, like General Electric and Ford. With the significant growth in manufacturing, companies are competing for resources, including people.

“We don’t have enough people in the manufacturing sector,” Tinnell said. It’s the biggest problem he consistently hears from companies across the state. “There is no doubt that 100% of EKU’s manufacturing engineering students will have easy access to internships while pursuing their degree, and then full-time job placement even before they graduate.”

That’s why Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) launched a new bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering in 2023. When Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education released its Engineering Sector Gap Analysis reporting a need in Kentucky to graduate manufacturing engineers and provide talent for the continued growth of manufacturing companies, EKU stepped up.

“Our manufacturing engineering program was specifically designed to meet the workforce needs of the state while offering a secure career path for students who want to be part of this growing industry and have opportunities to stay in Kentucky,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Collaborating with industry leaders like Ken and TIDAS Automation is essential to providing Kentucky’s companies with well-trained graduates and creating valuable internship and career opportunities for our students.”

Tinnell sees immense opportunity for graduates from EKU’s new manufacturing engineering program—the only one of its kind in the state. He’s eager to hire EKU interns and graduates at his company, which specializes in custom automation equipment to help manufacturers continuously improve their operations and grow their companies with advanced robotics conveyors and machinery. More importantly, he wants Kentucky talent to stay in Kentucky.

“Whatever we can do to retain our talent in Kentucky versus exporting it, will turn Kentucky into the No. 1 manufacturing state in the U.S.A.,” he said. With a large gap in the availability of manufacturing engineers, he continued, “EKU’s new manufacturing engineering program has the energy and potential to be a game changer for manufacturers in this state.”

Explaining the role of manufacturing engineering, Tinnell said, “Manufacturing engineering is really that focus on how to manufacture and how to solve the problems in manufacturing.”

An engineer himself, Tinnell continued, “We do cool stuff. If you’ve ever seen the show ‘How it’s Made,’ that’s what we do. Manufacturing engineers are the luckiest people on the planet—getting to see how so many things are made and then getting to design machines to improve those manufacturing processes. It’s an engineering dream come true to design and install new manufacturing systems in our state!”

Located in the heart of Kentucky’s robust manufacturing industry, EKU’s new degree program encourages students to create innovations for the future. Students have access to high-technology equipment and labs, bringing products to life from start to finish and exploring possibilities in prototyping, 3D printing and robotics. Through a curriculum guided by industry experts, students will graduate prepared to succeed and contribute to a growing industry in Kentucky. EKU’s manufacturing engineering program welcomed its first cohort of students in Fall 2023.

“I want to see hundreds, if not thousands, of students coming out of EKU and staying in Kentucky doing manufacturing—we need them,” Tinnell said.


Author Bio: Elise Russell, Eastern Kentucky University