RICHMOND, VA. — Norm DeCost, vice president of product management for shopping cart molder Rehrig International in Richmond, delivered a dose of reality to a group of local educators anxious to learn about the industry's work-force needs.
He said the city's lack of worker-training opportunities would cause him to think twice before suggesting that his company put a new factory in Richmond.
As an example of what Richmond should do, he pointed to a much smaller Virginia city, Winchester, that has plastics programs in its community college and an active organization of plastics companies.
The educators and industry officials met Jan. 24 in the last of a series of four meetings — organized by the state's community college system and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. — held across the state.
SPI hopes the meetings will jump-start plastics organizations around the state, said Gary Moore, director of work force development with Washington-based SPI.
While concerns were raised about how effective local programs are for plastics companies, Moore noted it was state community college officials who conceived of the four meetings, after they learned about the Winchester effort. College officials recruited SPI to participate, Moore said.
The meetings mostly were brainstorming sessions that attracted between one and four plastics companies and a slew of school officials, Moore said. While no concrete ideas came out of them, they demonstrated the willingness of different companies and officials to work together. SPI officials said such efforts usually start small.
Similar groups met in the Danville, Hampton and Roanoke regions.
Companies talked about the need for more skilled workers, particularly mold makers. One community college representative talked about how his institution designed a program quickly to help the paper industry. And one job-training program representative said there clearly is a need to tell students about high-paying plastics jobs available to them, such as in mold making.
Moore offered one specific suggestion to Virginia officials: Adopt a no-hassles job-training program like Florida's, which provides state funding to companies for worker training within four days.
One factor that Moore said could be important in crafting new programs are newly created agencies and boards, set up by a recent rewrite of federal worker-training laws. In most places, it's too soon to judge whether the new federal structure will help much, Moore said.
"Work-force boards have worked well in some states," he said. "In most states, we haven't seen whether it will work or not, including in Virginia."