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New training targets jobs of future

Sunday, April 6, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A guaranteed job interview and the possibility of working in a growing field in Henry County/Martinsville may sound too good to be true.

But it isn’t.

The opportunities will come from a new 28-credit Advanced Film Certification program and the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing. The program is designed for people who want to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing in the performance film industry and other fields.

Classes will be held in multiple locations, including Patrick Henry Community College, the New College Institute, Eastman Chemical Co. and Commonwealth Laminating & Coating, according to Lisa Lyle, director of recruiting and marketing at the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

Most of the basic manufacturing learning will be done at PHCC, Lyle said. “The equipment at NCI will be for the more customized performance coating film learning, and of course the learning at the companies with the internships is very specialized,” she said.

In addition to internships, scholarships will be available.

The training will be basic enough to be in demand at several advanced manufacturing companies, but specialized enough to fill open positions at performance film companies such as Eastman and Commonwealth.

“The first certification program is just one of many programs planned for the future,” Lyle said. “For example, we may offer a two-day specialized web (film) handling program at NCI for those already in the industry” to give them the opportunity “to come in, use the equipment to learn latest techniques and processes.”

All those things contribute to making the new year-long program unique, according to Mark Heath, EDC president/CEO.

“We don’t know anything in the country that has the educational and hands-on piece” to teach these advanced manufacturing skill sets, Heath said.

Those skills will be in demand in a number of different companies, including entry-level positions, such as those in maintenance, Heath said.

He explained that “maintenance employees in advanced manufacturing are the people who keep the machines running and do all sorts of advanced work. This is not janitorial maintenance. This is the operational side, and many of the employees have electrical, plumbing or HVAC (heating/air) backgrounds,” he said.

Others who would benefit from the program are recent high school graduates, those who want to “train up” for a more advanced — and hopefully better paying — job than they currently hold, those who are underemployed and others, Heath said.

Those who successfully complete the training and graduate are guaranteed a job interview with a local firm, Heath said. The pay scale and any benefits will depend on the industry or company they join.

“But our overreaching goal now, as it has always been, is to continue to move the pay scale upward and improve it. That’s why we work to get better, higher-paying jobs,” Heath said. To fill those jobs, highly skilled employees are necessary, he added.

The new training is built around the needs of performance film companies, Heath said.

Performance films have a variety of uses, from autos and homes to protective films for iPads and iPhones, according to Brian Miller, Eastman’s division superintendent of centralized maintenance and services.

“Architectural and automotive are our two biggest (customers),” he said.

Eastman has a facility in Fieldale where it employs 500 people. It came to Henry County in 2012 when it bought Solutia Performance Films. Earlier this year, the company announced a $40 million expansion, Heath noted.

Richard Hall, general manager of Commonwealth, said both companies desperately need workers.

Commonwealth’s sole manufacturing facility and the company’s headquarters are in the Patriot Centre industrial park, where 200 people are employed. The company also has operations in 10 locations in six countries around the world.

Since the training plan was devised, the companies have announced that Eastman will acquire Commonwealth in an agreement that is expected to be complete in the second half of the year.

That agreement will only make the training program — and the companies — stronger, Heath said.

He added that while the training is built around the performance film industry, many of the same skills also are in demand in other local firms such as Drake Extrusion Inc.; RTI International Metals; Nilit USA; Kilgour Industries and others.

It is clear that companies “right here in Martinsville and Henry County have growth potential,” Heath said. “It also is obvious, and should come as no surprise, that expansions will go where the company can get a skilled labor force.”

Lyle said a majority of the curriculum would be applicable to anyone; only 20 percent is tailored to performance film.

A few classes — such as introduction to manufacturing and performance films technology and topics in performance films manufacturing — had to be developed, according to Heath. The remaining 80 percent already were in place at PHCC, he said.

As graduates enter the labor force, they will fill not only slots in local companies, but the highly skilled workforce could help attract other companies, officials said. Additional industries will add revenues to the localities, support local businesses and promote growth throughout the community.

The full cost of providing the new training program is not yet known, Heath said, but those costs will be paid for through multiple sources, including grants, donors/contributors, the New College Foundation and others.

The hands-on training will be conducted in High Bay One at the New College on the Baldwin Block, which will house equipment that is similar to the advanced machines found in actual manufacturing operations, Lyle said.

Rhonda Hodges, PHCC’s dean of workforce development and continuing education, said financial aid will be available to eligible students, and she encouraged all students to apply. Some scholarships also will be available, she added.

Additional details about those opportunities will be released Thursday, officials said.

William Wampler, executive director of the New College, said it is hoped that the program will become a national model. “Don’t underestimate our ability to turn on a dime to customize” the curriculum for a particular industry, he said.

Heath worked on the new training program — dubbed “Project Genesis” during its developmental stages — for nearly five months alongside Miller, Hall, other advanced manufacturers and educators.

Heath said the training program also will be extended into elementary and high schools. Those discussions are underway, he added.

The new training is the first phase of Project Genesis, Heath said. There are three additional stages that will be “layered on” after the initial phase is launched, he said.

Phase 2 will provide higher training for experts that will be suitable for lead operators and technicians; Phase 3 will provide in-depth training on film and polymers; and the focus of Phase 4 will be window film tinting and installation.


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