Mold-maker apprentices in Iowa soon will be able to obtain classroom instruction via the Iowa Communications Network under a program developed by Iowa's plastics industry with the cooperation of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Roger Klouda, president of MSI Mold Builders of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, helped spearhead the effort along with Dave Elbert, central regional sales manager for Prime Alliance, a resin distributor in Des Moines; Doug Getter, program manager of the Wallace Technol-ogy Foundation; and Beth Balzer, marketing manager for the Iowa DED.
``Iowa has recognized the real need for some coordinated mold-making training,'' Klouda said. ``It's recognized that the quality of the jobs at the pay level we offer makes this program something they want to participate in.''
Plans call for the program to be ready by September. It will be based on the original mold-maker training manual developed jointly by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. based in Washing-ton, the Society of Plastics Engineers in Brookfield, Conn., and the National Tooling & Machining Association in Fort Washington, Md. The American Mold Builders Association in Medinah, Ill., also supports the program.
The Iowa Communications Network is a fiber-optics system, linking each of the state's 15 community colleges, at a cost of about $200,000 per hook-up. Plans call for ICN to be installed in each of the state's 400 high schools during the next four years. ICN is interactive so teachers and students can communicate during the session via video and audio link-up. One teacher can instruct many students located in several locations at one time.
Elbert said ICN has been the key to overcoming the logistics barriers in Iowa.
Elbert said 11 of the 15 community colleges teach some type of tool- and die-making class, but there is little uniformity to the programs. That also holds true with the state's mold-making businesses, which are spread out geographically, each with its own way of training apprentices.
By using an industry-approved manual as the basis for the curriculum, and working with the U.S. Department of Labor, a standardized program can be implemented.
Currently, the Iowa Plastics Industry Consortium headed by Elbert is conducting a statewide recruitment campaign to get students signed for fall classes. Forty apprentices already are enlisted, Klouda said.
Classes will be held from 7-8:30 each morning, and students are required to be employed in a mold shop so that classroom learning can be combined with work experience.
Besides training new apprentices, the program addresses the problem facing community colleges of how to get the 60 students needed each semester to keep their programs alive, Elbert said.
Another hurdle is lack of cooperation between industry groups, which makes it tough to focus on problem solving in a meaningful way, he said.
``It's hard to get the industry to come together and work on a problem because everyone has their own agenda,'' Elbert said. ``The community colleges are the same way, but for the first time we sat down over a two-day meeting, compared notes and found out we all had a lot in common. This gives our industry something to work together toward.''
Getter said that research has shown the plastics industry has the largest employment growth in
the industrial sector of the state.
``From an economic development standpoint, we want to foster growth among existing companies in Iowa,'' Getter said. ``If they don't have the mold builders coming up in the ranks, these companies won't stay in business. Being able to turn out more students in the apprenticeship program, we'll facilitate growth in the industry.''
The program will be launched June 4-5 at the Mid-States Plastics Show & Conference in Des Moines.
Recruitment is at the top of the agenda now, Klouda said. ``It's amazing how little people know about our industry and what a poor job we as an industry do in telling people about what we do.''
A state economic development survey showed Iowa will need 300 journeyman mold makers during the next five years, something that helped get state agencies such as the Wallace Technology Foundation behind the program. Getter said he hopes implementation of the mold-making apprenticeship classes also will identify Iowa as a major plastics state.
``Plastics companies looking for a place to put a plant will look at Iowa because we have the educated work force,'' he said.