The plastics mold-making industry needs more people like Mike Koebel. It also would be better off if there were more teachers like William Clarke.
Both have worked tirelessly during the past two years to start and nurture a mold-making apprenticeship program at Fontana High School in east Los Angeles. Sure, Koebel and his company, Prestige Mold Inc. of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., stand to benefit from such efforts. And sure, he and Clarke are hardly alone among individuals nationwide who have gone the extra mile to prime the mold-making pump for America's youth.
But, still their story merits special attention.
Scott Whisler, regional sales manager in Monterey Park, Calif., for mold base manufacturer D-M-E Co., stood in for Koebel at the recent SPI Molders & Moldmakers conference and gave attendees an update on Koebel's and Clarke's Fontana Project. The 39-year-old Koebel would have loved to have been there himself, but a lengthy illness has sidelined him for the time being.
``I feel bad I haven't been as active in the past six months — I hope others pick up the slack.''
At the conference, Whisler pointed out a vital prerequisite to getting a project like the one at Fontana High School off the ground: ``You need a teacher-type and an industry-type who are truly committed.''
Koebel and Clarke fit the bill.
It takes no more than a single phone conversation to sense Koebel's passion for the project. ``We, as mold shops, have to get together and convince these schools to add [machining and mold-making] courses. There's a pot of gold at the end of these classes. ... We could potentially put right to work all the good people who come out of this class,'' he said of the course he and Clarke helped start.
Clarke is hoping to take the Fontana Project one step further. He has helped develop a mold-making curriculum for something known in California as the Applied Technology Academy. This would be an ambitious, four-year, high school-level program in either machine tool technology or computer-aided design and manufacturing. The plan needs crucial funding to go forward. The Fontana School District is to vote March 26 at what Whisler called a ``make-or-break meeting.''
Mike Koebel hopes someone else can pick up the slack for a while, until he's fully back on his feet. For starters, the Fontana school board should approve the funding needed for this grass-roots project that might open whole new career doors for interested, L.A.-area youths. After all, isn't that what school is supposed to do?
Grace is editor of Plastics News.