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NCI Academy students see RTI up close
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RTI International Metals Human Resources Manager Glenn Wood shows a drain used to contain diesel fuel spills from trucks to New College Institute officials and students in the Industry Fundamentals program of NCI’s Academy for Engineering and Technology. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Tajuana Carter didn’t know until Wednesday that after she goes to college, she can find the type of high-tech job she wants close to home.

Carter, a rising senior at Martinsville High School, is enrolled in the Academy for Engineering and Technology at the New College Institute (NCI). She plans to attend Virginia Tech and earn a degree in materials engineering.

On Wednesday morning, she and a dozen other students in the academy’s Industry Fundamentals program this summer toured RTI International Metals. They learned about career opportunities with the company and saw workers use technology to mold and grind titanium, a metallic chemical element, into forms that other companies can use to make products, including airplanes.

The students will tour Arrington Motorsports today.

Carter, daughter of Issac and Sharon Carter, said she wants to become a materials engineer because she enjoys finding out what materials comprise products and how those materials can be made more durable.

She said she did not know before the RTI tour that the Martinsville area has such a high-tech company.

“I thought there was nothing you could do in Martinsville with a materials science degree,” Carter said. Now that she knows differently, she said, “I’d definitely come back” and work in her hometown if the opportunity arose.

The academy is designed to prepare students to enroll in higher education programs pertaining to engineering and technology or seek entry-level jobs with companies using advanced technology.

There are many people like Carter who do not realize how advanced some local companies are, said Katie Croft, NCI experiential learning coordinator.

“We’re trying to pull back the curtain” on those companies so area residents can find out what skills they will need to work for the firms and then acquire the skills, Croft said of the academy.

After the students earn degrees and/or acquire skills, RTI may be able to hire them, according to company executives who led the tour.

There is a shortage of industrial engineers in America, said Glenn Wood, human resources director at RTI. Noting that the engineering job market is hot right now, he predicted it will be even hotter in the future.

Having computer skills is essential to work for advanced manufacturers such as RTI, Wood said.

At RTI, employees in control rooms operate a large forge press and grinder, manipulating data on computer screens to run the equipment and form titanium into sizes and shapes for other companies.

Wood said molding and grinding titanium is “not a heavily populated, labor intensive industry,” but one in which technology controlled by workers does most of the work.

“Pretty much I sit here all day and look at this ... screen,” Terry Plaster, a grinder operator, told the students.

They watched a gigantic press shape a long wedge of titanium that had been heated to at least 1,500 degrees and was glowing orange. The press pounded the titanium as if the glowing metal was a stick of butter.

Scientists on RTI’s staff determine how exactly hot titanium must get, how long it must be heated to get to certain temperatures and how many strikes of the press are needed to get the metal to stages needed for certain uses, according to Wood.

Basically, it’s “like baking brownies” in that “recipes” are used, he said.

Computers are heavily used in that process.

James Strawn, a recent Martinsville High School graduate in the Industry Fundamentals program who will attend Old Dominion University to study computer information systems, said he was surprised at how much RTI’s facility at the Patriot Centre industrial park is computerized.

Strawn is the son of James and Tamarya Strawn. Like Carter, he said he would be interested in bringing his skills home after he graduates.

But don’t think that technological expertise is all that is needed to work for RTI.

As human resources manager, Wood said his job is to put together a team of employees who work well together to get RTI’s mission accomplished.

Potential hires generally need “a blend of education, (industrial) experience and soft skills,” such as being able to effectively communicate with others.

He emphasized that employees need at least high school diplomas, but he indicated that some college experience is preferable.

Also, getting a job at RTI — like anywhere else — has a lot to do with “making the best first impression” possible, Wood said.

That includes dressing appropriately for the job interview and making sure every word on a résumé is spelled correctly, he said.

Wood noted that RTI cross-trains its employees so they can do different jobs, such as when an employee has to be out.

The more duties that employees can do, the more money they generally earn, he said, adding that salaries start at $12.50 to $13 an hour.


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