WASHINGTON — The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has launched the industry's first standardized worker certification program, making tests for operators of plastic processing machines available nationwide in testing centers.
The tests for blow molders, extruders, injection molders and thermoformers are an attempt to set a performance bar for machine operators, which industry officials hope will improve performance, boost morale and help retain workers.
Nine employees of thermoformer Prent Corp. in Janesville, Wis., have taken the 150-question, 21/2hour test, said Pat Freeders, vice president of human resources. All nine passed, she said.
``It helps employee morale,'' she said. ``They can say `I'm good at what I do.'''
The company is encouraging the other two-thirds of its machine operators to take the National Certification in Plastics exam, which will help the firm get additional business because it can say its operators are certified, she said.
Prent, which has been actively involved in designing the test, also thinks it is good because it will help keep employees in the plastics industry, even if they leave the company, she said.
The four tests cost about $1 million to develop, including determining skills that every good operator should know, said Drew Fleming, director of industry work force development for the Washington-based SPI.
Now, the effort switches to marketing the program to make companies aware of it, he said. SPI also will identify regions with clusters of companies interested in the certification program. SPI will target those areas to develop broader training programs, Fleming said.
``We've established this universe of knowledge that we believe needs to be taught,'' he said. ``Now, the deal is to get schools to start teaching it and companies to start using it.''
Several Michigan schools have developed training programs around the test, Fleming said. Commercial training programs are beginning to alter their materials and many schools have talked about using the SPI materials for their curriculum, he said.
About 85 percent of the 624 operators who took a pilot exam in May and June passed, but Fleming said it is likely that a smaller percentage will pass the completed exam. That's because the operators who took the pilot tended to be the most experienced, he said.
The tests are available at Sylvan Learning Centers, and cost $195 for employees of SPI member companies and $235 for nonmember companies. For locations, call (888) 627-3637.
Although the four separate exams each cover a different process, about 80 percent of the information is the same for all four tests so operators who pass are given a single title — NCP Certified Operator.
The program's launch costs less than the $1.2 million SPI initially envisioned, and the group was able to raise all of the $1 million needed from companies and from SPI, Fleming said.
SPI plans to develop a certification program for technicians, but first must launch a fund-raising campaign for that, Fleming said. The cost and the scope of that effort have not been decided, he said.