Worker training never seems like a very sexy topic, but few issues are more important to the long-term health of any company.
Other issues come and go, but worker training is there, year after year, whenever we ask processors about the most important challenges that they face.
Most public schools and local colleges don't turn out machine operators who have the skills that processors need, so processors usually are stuck training their own employees or hiring workers trained by someone else. That's not a very efficient way to run a business. After all, you're in the business of making good parts, not educating workers.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. made an important commitment to worker training in 2000, but the group hasn't been completely satisfied with the results.
Now SPI is at a crossroads regarding how it delivers its respected workforce certification and satellite-based training programs.
Processors should be taking advantage of what SPI has to offer in this area, but the truth is that SPI's programs have been underutilized.
Last month SPI launched a review of the programs, initially because the cost of satellite-transmission time was too expensive, considering the number of workers being trained. Since the program began in 2000, transmission costs have doubled to $27,000 per course.
In the middle of the review, the satellite that SPI had used to broadcast tumbled from its orbit, making the effort even more timely. According to the Washington-based trade group, the replacement satellite offered by SPI's provider had technical problems, and finding a new provider would have been too expensive.
But forgetting satellite costs, SPI's training efforts face a bigger challenge: encouraging more processors to take advantage of the service.
In that respect, SPI was a victim of bad timing. More processors have been trimming their payroll than hiring, it seems, and there's no shortage of trained workers in many parts of the United States. And with survival at stake for many processors, training has slipped to the back burner.
According to SPI, about 2,000 machinery operators have passed its National Certification in Plastics exams, and about 1,000 have used satellite broadcasts under SPI's Plastics Learning Network. That's not enough to be financially self-sustaining.
Still there are some bright spots. Some state and local governments have given processors a total of $1 million to utilize SPI's programs.
Success will nurture more success, making it easier for processors to get additional local funding.
Yet, SPI's training programs are in for some major changes, with key questions including the best delivery method (Internet, live instructor or something else), and cost.
If training is an important issue at your company, we encourage you to take advantage of SPI's programs, and perhaps even get involved in deciding their future direction.