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Forces mobilize to start manufacturing training program

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The Greater Lehigh Valley recently was named the beneficiary of a $135,000 state grant designed to help improve the viability of the region’s manufacturers by developing a better pipeline of entry-level employees.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturing Training-to-Career grant will support the Manufacturers Resource Center, working in partnership with Lehigh Carbon Community College and Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, in the development of a new manufacturing training program for the region.

The Lehigh Valley grant is one of three awarded by Gov. Tom Wolfe. The other two are in western Pennsylvania: Johnstown and the Pittsburgh area.

This is not the first time that LCCC and MRC have joined forces, according to Don Worman, manufacturing technology instructor at the Schnecksville college. Last fall, they worked together on a mobile manufacturing lab sponsored by ATAS International of Upper Macungie Township.

“In the broadest terms, [this time] we are addressing the lack of qualified workers for the manufacturing sector in the Valley,” Worman said. “We are doing this by introducing students to the fundamentals of manufacturing.

“We see the issues firsthand facing manufacturers and strongly believe this program will help address those issues.”

ADVISORY COUNCIL

An advisory council of 15 local manufacturing companies has been created, with the group’s first roundtable held in mid-May, according to Jack Pfunder, CEO of MRC, based in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.

During that session, Pfunder said, manufacturers were encouraged to talk about the kinds of skills that they are not finding in entry-level job applicants.

In delivering the program, LCCC will focus on core technical courses including math, blueprint reading, electrical and mechanical fabrication, computer aided design and safety.

“The students will earn an OSHA [Occupational and Safety Health Administration] 10 Certification from LCCC,” Worman said. “MRC will conduct plant tours of area manufacturers, teach lean manufacturing concepts and soft skills needed to be successful in manufacturing businesses.”

SEPTEMBER START

A nonprofit, the MRC helps manufacturers of all sizes by offering training, seminars and connections to resources that offer financial support and professional development.

Both MRC and the college are finalizing their parts of the curriculum and will meet with the advisory council one more time to present the curriculum before the 16-week program kicks off in early September.

Pfunder said he expects participants on the advisory council to change before the program launches and for the council to grow in size.

In fact, he said, he continues to field calls from companies that want to become part of the group.

FREE TUITION FOR FIRST CLASS

Student recruitment, which will be spearheaded by Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, will come next. The inaugural class of 25 students is expected to include a mix of young people just getting ready to graduate high school, veterans, dislocated workers and the unemployed or underemployed who may have employment barriers.

There will be no coast for the program for this first offering, Pfunder said, although that could change. Later, the program also may also serve as an onboarding option for area manufacturers, according to Pfunder.

“When it is all done,” he said, “you start with 25 potential employees who are given a mechanical aptitude test and a better understanding of what a job looks like. For them, it’s, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t do it.’

“For the manufacturer, you are getting a job candidate who is trained at a certain level. Their resume should go at the top of the resume stack.”

SUREFIRE GOOD HIRES

Pfunder said it is difficult to tell the difference between a resume of someone who could be very good and someone who is not, and it is expensive to make a hiring mistake.

“We want to take the guesswork out for the employer and employee,” he said. “We want to help employers to find the right nugget out there who is be able to be a good employee.

“For the employee, we want to help them to get into a great profession with great benefits. Manufacturing is a great opportunity once you get into the pipeline.”

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