Shell Polymers’ Support to Boost Plastics Education at Penn College
A $250,000 gift from Shell Polymers will enhance Pennsylvania College of Technology’s efforts to produce highly skilled graduates for the plastics industry while helping to ease the growing skills gap in plastics manufacturing.
The funding will enable Penn College – which also operates the Plastics Innovation & Resource Center (PIRC) to assist plastics companies with research and development and the training of incumbent workers – to enhance and upgrade the academic and research lab that will now be known as the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence.
“The enhancement of this lab demonstrates Shell’s commitment to hands-on technology education by helping us maximize student learning using the most current technologies, and to provide training and research-and-development assistance to rotational molding companies,” said Elizabeth A. Biddle, director of corporate relations at Penn College. “This support is important not only to Penn College, but to a niche industry that does not have many places in the world with the capabilities offered here. We greatly appreciate Shell’s investment in our students’ success.”
“Shell believes in hands-on technology education like that offered at Penn College,” said Todd Whittemore, Shell’s general manager for polyethylene technology. “As a key provider to the plastics industry, we see this as an investment in not only education, but the viability of our industry. Shell is honored to partner with Penn College to help enhance not only the rotational molding sector of plastics, but the industry as a whole.”
Skilled manufacturing professionals are in high demand. A growing number of retirements – and fewer qualified workers to replace the retirees – is an ongoing concern for American manufacturing. It’s expected that 3.5 million manufacturing job openings over the next decade will have only 2 million trained/qualified workers available to fill them, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.
The plastics industry is no exception, requiring a mix of skilled professionals with college degrees and process technicians with manufacturing skills – acquired more through training and less through formal plastics education – to mitigate its manufacturing gap.
Recognizing the opportunity this represents for students, Penn College addresses these needs both through its academic offerings – a bachelor’s degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology and an associate degree in plastics and polymer technology – as well as the training it offers to incumbent workers through the PIRC.
The college also hopes to play a role in providing skilled employees for Shell Chemical Appalachia’s multibillion-dollar petrochemical (“ethane cracker”) complex under construction less than 250 miles west of the Penn College campus in Potter Township, Beaver County. The facility will employ 600 workers to produce ethylene, which is used in products ranging from food packaging to automotive parts.
The crucial rotational molding industry produces items that are too thick for injection or blow molding processes. Penn College has the capacity to grow its plastics programs and intends to do so with a continuing focus on providing the finest education and training opportunities to students and incumbent workers. In the next three years, the college anticipates that 150 students will receive hands-on training on the new rotational molder, and at least 100 incumbent workers are expected to participate in hands-on seminars at the PIRC, where 45 research-and- development projects will be completed for plastics firms over the same period.
In addition, the college conducts outreach to middle and high school students regarding opportunities in the plastics industry.
Each year, Penn College hosts a Science Festival for more than 1,500 area fifth-graders. SPE’s PlastiVan Program, a mobile initiative aimed at educating and exciting young people about the vast opportunities in the plastics industry, has been part of the festival the past two years. The college intends to continue this focus by inviting plastics companies to participate in the annual event.
The Plastics Innovation & Resource Center serves the education, training, and research-and-development needs of plastic processors, resin suppliers, mold builders and equipment manufacturers.