Plastics Manufacturing Center Pilots Employee-Certification Program

Published 03.20.2007

Polymer Engineering
Workforce Development

The Plastics Manufacturing Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology recently began a pilot program to certify employees in Pennsylvania's plastics industry through a special programs contract in cooperation with the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp., Lewisburg.

The contract is part of a Plastics Initiatives Grant authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The initiative makes Pennsylvania the second state in the United States to offer the Global Standards for Plastics Certification, a program begun in Great Britain 14 years ago. About 30,000 plastics employees operators, technicians and others have since been certified in Europe.

According to C. Hank White, director of the Plastics Manufacturing Center, certification provides universal recognition of plastic workers' knowledge and capabilities, which results in both higher levels of efficiency and quality in plastics plants and increased morale among employees.

Currently, the grant-funded pilot program involves seven Pennsylvania plastics companies that employ blow-molding, injection-molding, thermoforming and extrusion processes.

Employees first are evaluated to determine what training activities they will need. Some courses are required of every employee to earn the certification, regardless of pre-test results.

A combination of interactive training, simulation software, books, manuals, videos and DVDs is used to teach machine fundamentals, plastics materials and handling, safety procedures, and other critical skills needed for efficient production.

The training is customized, to a degree, for each company, White said. For instance, safety training incorporates both industry standards and the safety procedures of the individual company.

According to William C. Brock, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp., the certification program ultimately has two goals.

"One is to improve the efficiency and production in the company by having all the operators know what to look for in terms of quality and performance in the plastics process," he said. "The result is that we have a better-trained workforce and are better equipped to meet competition which is now a global competition in the plastics industry."

The second goal is to boost employees' spirits, Brock said. "This is now something they have worked for and can be proud to have attained," he said.

When employees become certified technicians or operators, it allows companies to view them as already qualified for certain positions.

Indiana was the first state to adopt the Global Standards for Plastics Certification. There, employees at 30 companies have received the training and certification. White said many of those companies report they have gained a number of benefits, including less scrap, less ?down? time and better employee attendance.

"Generally, the bottom line is that companies are now making more profit and can produce a greater volume of goods," he said.

The Plastics Manufacturing Center became aware of the work being done in Indiana and wanted to adopt it for Pennsylvania, White said, so, in partnership with the CPWDC, a grant was obtained from the state Department of Labor and Industry to pilot the program as part of the Pennsylvania Plastics Initiative. Companies participating in the pilot program are Allegheny Plastics, Leetsdale; Chelsea Building Products, Oakmont; Crescent Industries, New Freedom; Drug Plastics, Reading; Integrity Plastics, Denver; McClarin Plastics, Hanover; and Owens-Illinois, Brookville.

The companies have finished employee evaluations, and training has begun. White anticipates it will take nine months to a year for up to 30 employees in each of the seven companies to receive training. After the employees complete the training, the Plastics Manufacturing Center will verify they meet the standards for certification.

In addition to evaluating employees' knowledge, the center with the assistance of MAPP (Mid- America Plastics Partners Inc.), the designated certifying agency for North America has developed a number of measurements for company efficiency, including scrap materials, changeover time, production output, part quality or variability, customer complaints, and costs related to tool damage or employee injury.

If a review of the pilot program determines the certification process warrants broader expansion in Pennsylvania, funding will be proposed to sustain the program. Penn College's Plastics Manufacturing Center holds an exclusive contract to provide certification training in the state.

"We are pioneers in offering the global certification process to Pennsylvania's plastics industry employees," said Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour. "Pennsylvania College of Technology is among the first colleges in North America to pilot this program to provide highly recognized credentials to plastics employees."

"Other states are looking at it states like Ohio and Michigan, White noted. "Those states will be watching Pennsylvania's progress."

The Plastics Manufacturing Center, part of Workforce Development & Continuing Education at Penn College, is one of the top plastics technology centers in the country, providing support to the plastics industry through training, material testing and other consulting work.

For more information about the Plastics Manufacturing Center, call (570) 321-5533, send e-mail or visit online .