The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is doing a top-to-bottom review of how it delivers its workforce certification and satellite-based training programs, trying to make them more financially viable and more widely available.
Shortly after SPI launched the review last month, it got what some might call a signal from the heavens: The group's broadcast satellite malfunctioned and went tumbling out of its orbit. The satellite snafu has left SPI scrambling for ways to deliver its training courses this fall, even as it searches for answers to the broader questions of how to deliver training and invigorate the programs.
The rising cost of satellite-transmission time was the initial push for the review, said Catherine Randazzo, SPI's chief member services officer. Since the program began in 2000, transmission costs nearly have doubled to $27,000 per course, and SPI has had to absorb that, she said.
``Frankly, it made the broadcast of the training borderline uneconomical,'' said Jay Cude, president and chief executive officer of injection molder Coeur Inc. in Washington, N.C., and head of the SPI task force. A replacement satellite offered by SPI's provider had too many technical problems, and finding a new provider would have been even more expensive, SPI said.
But beyond rising satellite costs, there are broader challenges facing the satellite broadcasts and worker training efforts.
The program has not attracted the kind of participation SPI had hoped for, and has not been financially self-sustaining, SPI officials said.
``The program currently is not paying for itself and we'd certainly like it to be more cost effective going forward,'' she said.
Randazzo declined to discuss specific financial figures, but SPI officials said in early 2002 that their entire range of workforce development programs, which includes things not part of the current review, cost $400,000 more in 2001 than SPI took in from the offerings.
The program has not trained the number of people SPI had hoped - about 2,000 machinery operators have passed SPI's National Certification in Plastics exams, and about 1,000 have used satellite broadcasts under SPI's Plastics Learning Network.
``We expected more [people], but we didn't expect Sept. 11, we didn't expect the economic downturn and we didn't expect the problems with state budgets,'' Randazzo said.
SPI launched PLN in 2000, two years after it began offering certification with the NCP. The project is part of a broad training push the Washington-based trade group has made in recent years.
Randazzo pointed to what she said are positive developments: Interest is up for this fall's programs and SPI's new partnership with the National Association of Workforce Boards slowly is starting to yield fruit.
Since 2000, state and local governments have given $1 million to companies for training with SPI's programs, Randazzo said.
The review, which is due to be delivered at SPI's January board meeting, will be wide-ranging and will look at all aspects of how SPI delivers worker training, Cude said: ``Everything is on the table.''
That includes examining whether the training should be delivered via digital versatile disc, or with live instructors, or over the Internet, or some combination of all of them, SPI said. Cude said the review also will look at pricing.
Another concern raised by the brief discussions SPI officials have had thus far is whether the group should expand its operator certification to include training for technicians, a longtime goal of some in the group, and whether that would raise participation, Cude said.
That's not a small undertaking, though: SPI and its member companies spent years and about $1 million developing the operator certification program.
Cude said having a nationally recognized certification program has been a big help when companies apply for government training funds.
As for this fall's courses, SPI officials said they are working on other delivery systems, such as using videotapes of past training supplemented with on-site instructors. The group may have caught a small break with the timing of the satellite problem, because the next satellite-delivered courses are not scheduled to start until Oct. 27, SPI said.