NEW YORK — The Society of Plastics Engineers is ending its 4-year-old Plastics Technology Certification effort, and writing off about $500,000 in loans used to fund the program, SPE leaders announced during Antec '99.
Society leaders said it is ``not financially possible'' for SPE to continue running the employee testing and certification program.
SPE launched the program in 1996, saying the plastics industry wanted a way to prove the qualification of skilled workers. At Antec, outgoing SPE President Norman Behn said that stance has not changed, but results have been disappointing. SPE had problems getting companies to support the program financially and pay for the tests.
According to SPE, only about 200 people have taken the test; 173 of them earned certification by passing. The original goal, by this point, was to have at least 500 people take the test, Behn said.
Michael Cappelletti, SPE executive director, called Plastics Technology Certification ``a program ahead of its time.'' In an April 30 statement announcing the move, he said: ``The plastics industry, as a whole, is just not ready to fully embrace professional certification.''
Behn and Cappelletti touched on the issue during the Annual Technical Conference, held May 2-6 in New York.
``It was a money issue,'' Cappelletti said. ``It was a good program. We just didn't have deep enough pockets.''
SPE, based in Brookfield, Conn., loaned the money to operate the program to a separate corporation set up to run it, the Institute for Plastics Certification, officials said. The institute was affiliated with SPE, and SPE intended that the loan would be paid back, with interest.
In a speech during Antec, Behn said the decision to end the program was made in recent weeks.
``As a result of that program ending, SPE, which was supporting it in terms of loans, will have to probably write off about one-half million dollars that was spent on that corporation's existence over the past four years,'' he said. ``Obviously, that will affect our retained earnings, but we're hoping that other ways will be found to bring that up to snuff.''
After a one-year term as president of the 33,000-member SPE, Behn is turning over the post to William A. Humphrey, president of R.C. Molding Inc., a custom injection molder in Greer, S.C. Behn runs his own firm, Alltech Sales Co. in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Nancy Herdegen, SPE's staff person in charge of Institute for Plastics Certification, has been reassigned to other SPE educational efforts.
Reaction by SPE members at Antec ranged from disappointment to resignation that the program is not working.
``Agitation and depression,'' was how James Wenskus described his feelings after he heard the news, shortly before Antec. Wenskus, a consultant in Rochester, N.Y., served on a panel of experts from industry and academia who reviewed SPE's test questions and study materials.
``It's very discouraging to us,'' said the retired Eastman Kodak Co. engineer.
John Beaumont, director of the computer-aided engineering center at Penn State Erie, helped write the original test questions.
``It's a bit of a disappointment,'' he said. ``Everyone had hopes of this thing working.''
One problem, Beaumont believes, is the difficulty in reaching SPE's target audience: midlevel professionals called ``technologists'' with job skills somewhere between a plant-floor worker and an engineer. That kind of person typically does not attend trade shows, and may not be an SPE member, he said.
``It's not real clear where the incentive is to get this [certification],'' Beaumont said.
The decision to dump certification didn't surprise Barbara Arnold-Feret of Prototyping and Rapid Tooling Services in Roanoke, Texas.
``It wasn't focused enough,'' she said. ``It was expected. It was not cost-effective for the audience or for SPE.''
The decision boiled down to money, said Robert Hooper, technical sales director at Antec exhibitor GR Technical Services Inc. of Mountainside, N.J.
``The decision to suspend it was purely a business decision. The need is still there,'' he said, adding that some of the blame lies with industry. ``There wasn't a groundswell of support.''
Some manufacturers become narrow-minded about worker training. Before joining GR Tech, Hooper worked at the New Jersey Polymer Extension Center, a program at Stevens Institute of Technology that helped local processors.
``Companies take the attitude that they don't want to train their employees because they think it increases [employees'] mobility,'' he said.
Also, some SPE members said low U.S. unemployment may have hurt the program because skilled workers can get new, higher-paying jobs without having a paper saying they are certified.
``Bad timing could be part of it,'' Wenskus said.
Wenskus pointed out that other technical trade groups are able to run certification programs, such as the Instrument Society of America in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and the American Society of Quality Control in Milwaukee.
Industry members didn't support the SPE program ``because they didn't understand its significance,'' he said.