ORLANDO, FLA. - The SPI Mold-ers Division's year-old, $1.26 million project to create a nationwide, molder job-skills certification program has cleared its initial funding hurdle and is entering its first phase. The division has raised about $450,000 in pledges so far, and spent roughly $100,000 of that last year on initial costs related to a feasibility study and marketing efforts, according to Drew Fleming, staff director of the 250-member division of the Washing-ton-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
While most in the industry appear to support the certification concept - a point underscored by a nationwide survey conducted for the division in the spring - it still proved tougher to raise the funds to get started than had been anticipated, Fleming said.
``We're about nine months behind schedule,'' he conceded, ``but we have money now and we're ready to roll.''
He said the project's developers expect a pilot test to be ready by about August 1997.
``We still need to raise several hundred thousand dollars more in the next three to four months,'' to keep the program on track, Fleming said.
The project's first phase, called logical analysis, is to begin in early April and take until roughly August. That phase is designed to analyze the structure and relationship of all jobs in production molding, and yield definitions of job levels and career paths.
Fleming said CTB/McGraw-Hill, the firm contracted in December 1994 to devise and enact the certification program, personally will interview 50-60 industry workers in this phase.
The second phase - to begin in September and run through March - involves job analysis. CTB will study each level and identify the work performed, to develop a model training curriculum, ranking tasks and standardizing job descriptions.
National accounts manager Anne Browning of CTB/McGraw-Hill said her firm will use a detailed survey to determine the kinds of tasks performed in all types of shop-floor jobs.
Dale F. Reichhart, certification task force chairman, told a room of three dozen or so Molders Division executives Feb. 23 at the group's annual meeting in Orlando that the program's success will hinge on significant molder support and involvement.
``We'll need about 3,000 names of operators, technicians, master molders, and the like to participate in a survey, defining their jobs,'' he said.
The plan is to poll custom and captive injection molders across the United States, including SPI member and nonmember firms.
``We'll need a diverse cross-section, for credibility,'' said Reich-hart, who is a vice president of technology at Huron Plastics Group Inc. in Port Huron, Mich.
Phase three - the final stage before implementation of pilot examinations - will take another six months and will involve developing test questions and study guides based on industry-defined standards.
The planned result is a national, performance-based, job-related certification exam, to be conducted at 500 testing centers.
Eventually they hope that ``help wanted'' classified ads might specify, for example, that a ``Level 2'' machine operator is needed, and that such a skill designation would be understandable to all job-seeking individuals, and to all plastics companies.
There is little question that such a yardstick is needed and wanted throughout the industry. Last year, SPI's Molders Division sponsored a market survey on industry attitudes about training and certification that bore that out.
The nationwide study of custom and captive injection molders, conducted by Philadelphia's Melior Group between April and June, generated 450 replies, or 10 percent of the 4,500 sent out.
According to the study, 87 percent of the industry perceives a need for employee certification, with more than a third of those that see a need describing it as a ``high need.''
The highest percentage of respondents that see a high need are midsized firms (those with 51-200 employees and an average of 22 injection presses); based in the Midwest (42 percent) vs., say, 25 percent in the South; and operated expensive machinery and computer-driven processes to serve demanding customers (automotive suppliers led the way, with 41 percent seeing a high need, followed by electronic industry suppliers, at 36 percent).
Joe Y. Bennett, president of molder United Southern Indus-tries Inc. of Forest City, N.C., is heading one of the more challenging tasks related to the certification project - raising the money to pay for it.
Bennett, the program's chairman of capital development, told the group in Orlando, ``We expect the molding community to pay for about 55 percent of these costs, with the rest coming from suppliers.''
He said the division's goal is to solicit pledges of $50 per production employee. Molding firms have kicked in about $90,000-$95,000 of the $450,000 raised, with resin and machinery makers leading the pledge parade.
``Of the few formal presentations we've made so far [seeking funding], we have not had a single rejection,'' Bennett said.
But Fleming noted that the Molders Division, which is inexperienced in serious fund-raising, simply underestimated the time needed.
The division plans to seek support from other types of plastics processors, too, since it believes the program will be adaptable to many types of processing, and to other industries.
Meanwhile, Fleming said SPI is creating a certification advisory board of 11-13 people from varying backgrounds to govern this effort. SPI and the Society of Plastics Engineers, which offers its own certification program for a different constituency (technologists and engineers), plan to place a member on each other's certification advisory boards, to ensure efforts do not overlap.
Fleming noted that SPI also has decided to explore working with SPI Canada on certification, but stressed that the only contact between them on the topic has been ``very preliminary.''
``This is not a one-shot deal,'' he said of the overall project. ``This is a program we're giving birth to, that we'll have to nurture, feed and care for, and hopefully it will become self-supporting.''