WASHINGTON — The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. wants to launch a satellite television-based training program for processors, and is negotiating with state governments to raise the $1 million needed to start. The effort would build on a pilot project in South Carolina, and if it begins on schedule in the fall, processors would be able to get some training courses beamed via satellite to nearby technical schools or directly to the factory floor.
SPI is very close to agreements with a handful of states and is optimistic it will sign up enough to raise $1 million during two years, said Catherine Randazzo, vice president of strategic business initiatives for Washington-based SPI.
"Work-force development and finding and training and retraining workers is the most important issue to the plastics industry, particularly on processors and on the machinery side," said Rick Sturgis, southern regional manager in SPI's Greenville, S.C., office.
"By raising the efficiency and proficiency of the work force, which is what the intention of this program is, and shifting some of the high cost of training back to the states ... it should make our companies more competitive," Sturgis said.
The program likely would begin with 10 courses taught from the Polymer Center for Excellence in Charlotte, N.C., and is designed to help beef up what industry officials say is a shortage of good, plastics-specific training programs.
"There are not that many states who do a very good job at providing broad-based training support to the industry," Sturgis said. "I think state support of plastics-specific training has been less than what our members would desire."
He said states are interested in training, but industry has not often explained well what its needs are.
States would have to pay $150,000 to be eligible. SPI officials declined to identify what states they are talking with, but said they are targeting states with significant plastics industries.
SPI officials did say Ohio is very interested. Also, Plastics Pennsylvania, a state-based network of processors, decided in November to endorse the initiative and write a letter to Gov. Tom Ridge asking for financial support.
The $1 million is needed to develop more content, pay TV production costs, pay instructors and hire staff, Randazzo said.
Sturgis helped develop the South Carolina pilot effort.
"Where the states have struggled in the past is obviously in most cases they don't have the staff available to teach these courses," he said. "This allows them to get into the plastics training business without having expertise on staff."
Initially, all of the courses will be taught by the Polymer Center for Excellence, but more content providers will be added, Randazzo said. Each state that pays into the program will get two seats on a board of directors — one for industry and one for government.
The courses will be transmitted by the South Carolina Educational Television's BusinessLink service on its spare satellite space. Eventually the effort may utilize the Internet.
Initial courses will not be entry level, but will focus on building additional skills in injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and safety. Over time, SPI would like to broaden the program to train operators, technicians and mold makers, Randazzo said. For now, the group plans a second pilot class on basic injection molding in January at three companies and at nine technical schools in Florida and South Carolina.
SPI is talking with schools in Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia and several other states about participating in the pilot.
Costs have not been worked out, but SPI officials estimated it will cost $3,500-$5,000 for a company to put in a satellite dish. The January pilot will cost $175 per student.
SPI also plans to hire another staffer to oversee its work-force development efforts, Randazzo said. SPI's work-force efforts include worker certification and orientation programs.
The satellite effort's Internet site is www.plasticslearning.org.