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Education makes for skilled labor

Pick up any business publication and you''ll probably find an article about the shortage of skilled labor.

On March 13, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world''s largest association devoted to human resource management representing more than 200,000 individual members, (Alexandria, VA) released its latest survey findings. The report, 2006 Access to Human Capital and Employment Verification Survey, surveyed 489 HR professionals and found that overall professionalism, analytical skills, business knowledge and written and verbal communication skills are the ones new employees lack most frequently. More than 25% of the respondents also indicate that there is a shortage of qualified candidates in positions that require degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dennis Gros of Gros Executive Recruiters (Brentwood, TN) says that in the building products sector "professional jobs were more difficult to land in the first quarter," and "validates a diminishing demand for new employees at building products manufacturers, compared to a year ago."

It''s a trend that doesn''t seem to be getting better, even as plastics products manufacturers use more and improved automation technology to help offset the shortage of skilled workers.

"It will take a collaborative effort by all the stakeholders-workers, government, the business and academic communities, and the HR profession-to reverse the skills shortage trend," said Susan Meisinger, president and CEO of SHRM. "A skilled workforce is vital for American''s future economic health."

Corporations are working toward a better educated and more skilled workforce through various means. In SHRM''s survey, 59% of the respondents'' organizations are offering under-graduate educational assistance, 48% are offering graduate education assistance, 55% offer job-related skills training, and 38% offer internships.

Eric Mittelstadt, chair of the Advanced Leadership Forum of the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM), said in a recent presentation to a group of the American Mold Builders Association, "that 80% of manufacturing executives surveyed reported a shortage of qualified workers, while 68% reported that this inability to find qualified workers had a negative impact on their businesses.

"We''ve got to get more productive-there will be 30 million fewer workers by 2018-only 40 million will enter the workforce while 70 million Baby Boomers will retire."

The Manufacturing Skills Council formed in 1998 and in November 2005, launched its own system and became a separate entity. "It''s a paradigm shift from the traditional occupational approach to a flex-skills approach," explains Mittelstadt. "The knowledge worker is key-one that is able to keep pace with technology changes and focus on foundational skills," he explained.

More corporations are participating in these efforts. When 3D Systems Corp. opens its new state-of-the-art headquarters in Rock Hill, SC later this summer, the company will also do something few corporations think of doing when they locate to an area: create a 3D Systems University in partnership with York Technical College. The College will construct a technology training center across from the new 3D Systems'' headquarters that will educate and train students working toward a two-year associates degree in rapid prototyping and manufacturing, utilizing 3D Systems'' technologies and systems.

"York Technical College is excited to partner with 3D Systems to build a world-class training center here in Rock Hill," said Dr. Dennis Merrell, York Technical College''s president. "The new facility will help position our region as a leader in cutting edge, digital manufacturing, and will create opportunities for the college to develop a knowledge-based workforce for 21st-century manufacturing."

Terra Community College (Fremont, OH) offers a premier education in manufacturing at the college''s Engineering and Industry Technology Division. It includes a variety of plastics programs supported by the SPE (a plastics technology center) and SME (Center for Integrated Manufacturing Solutions). The school has a complete CNC center including a wire EDM, and a CAD laboratory featuring state-of-the-art seats of AutoCad, Solid Edge, Pro/E, and Unigraphics.

Terra also boasts a rapid prototyping lab, and works co-operatively with major OEMs in the Northwest Ohio region on development projects. For example, the lab prototyped a tester for testing a fill-valve solenoid for Whirlpool. An integrated manufacturing cell teaches students about automation and robotics in manufacturing, featuring ABB and Fanuc robots. "The programs here all support each other," explains Tom Kissell, dean of the engineering and industrial technology division. "For example, the students training in electrical skills will fix the machinery in the manufacturing cell."

The SPE supports the Color & Appearance Division of the school''s plastics department, and donates $10,000 annually to the program. The school''s Color & Appearance classes are so popular, Terra offers them online for its distance learning program. "There''s no real good place to get trained in coloring of plastics, so many people take our online courses," says Jamie Przybylski, professor in the plastics lab. The classes cost $280 for in-state students and $450 for out-of-state students.

The lab contains two single-screw extruders and one twin-screw extruder, and five injection molding machines. In addition to experimenting with color, the lab can perform tensile and melt flow tests. "We try to cover all the bases here and make people ready for the real working world," says Przybylski.

Karen Daniels, a manufacturing engineer for Style Crest Manufacturing Inc. (Fremont, OH) took the classes to provide her with additional knowledge to enhance her job skills. "It''s an excellent program," she says. Style Crest is a maker of vinyl siding and operates seven lines.

Kissell points to a "job board" containing dozens of listings of job openings in the plastics industry in northern Ohio, showing the tremendous need to fill high-paying positions for skilled workers in the plastics industry in the region. "We have plenty of jobs," Kissell comments. "We need students!"

A. Schulman Inc. is a prime example of the type of collaborative effort it requires between academia and industry to create ready-to-work employees. John Piscitello, color technology applications development manager for A. Schulman''s Color Technology Center (Sharon Center, OH), says that the color and appearance program at Terra Community College is excellent at providing the basics so that students can hit the ground running when they enter the work force.

"They know how to run injection molding machines and extruders, and they know the basics of color matching," Piscitello says. "They''ll learn more when they get here, but Terra is a very good school for color matching."

Clare Goldsberry [email protected]

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