Watching the plastics industry address the industrywide problem of lack of skilled workers, I'm impressed with the creativity and camaraderie that have developed among companies, technical schools, community colleges and industrial development groups. In the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania; El Paso and Waco, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and Jackson, Miss., where demand for skilled workers outstrips supply, these groups have formed partnerships to tackle the issue.
The results are more exposure to the industry as a source of good, career-oriented jobs, and training programs that address processors' needs at the production-floor level. Another result is the creation of technical school and community college programs offering associate's degrees that affect the processor's bottom line: quality, machine maintenance and mold setup.
That's how problems get solved. Instead of crying about the lack of trained employees, U.S. processors need to work with local resources to help set up practical programs.
Job recruiters also can be a tremendous resource for facilitating training programs. Firms, caught in the squeeze to find employees who know how to do more than flip hamburgers, might be surprised at what can be accomplished at the grass-roots level.
Much of the progress being made by processors is done outside the industry's two main trade groups, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Society of Plastics Engineers.
The local groups have been accused of reinventing the wheel by some SPE and SPI members. SPE and SPI offer scholarships, and have recently introduced employee certification programs. But the organizations have come in with too little too late; or, as in the case of SPE's engineering certification program, something that is of little value in solving the need for trained production employees.
Rightly or wrongly, many processors perceive that the two trade groups do little to promote job opportunities, or to offer valid training programs.
So, these processors have grabbed the bull by the horns and worked together locally to create solutions. If that's reinventing the wheel, then so be it.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.