Erie, Pa. — Ten Northwest Pennsylvania plastics workers began an apprenticeship program Nov. 12 at the American Institute of Injection Molding (AIM).
These employees already had received some training at their home firms but will receive more intensive instruction through the two-year plastic process technician apprenticeship at Erie-based AIM. The inaugural class consists of nine men and one woman who have been working in plastics for tenures ranging from four months to 12 years.
“One of the biggest criticisms of education is that it gets separated from the real world,” AIM founder John Beaumont said Nov. 12 at a kickoff event for the program. “Here, we can do everything under one roof.”
Apprentices in the state-registered program will receive not only classroom instruction but also will be able to work on injection molding machines and other equipment at AIM.
“Companies are realizing it's time to advance themselves and their employees,” said Beaumont, a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame who founded AIM in 2015.
Beaumont's other plastics accomplishments include founding plastics firm Beaumont Technologies of Erie and a 25-year teaching career at Penn State-Behrend. The AIM Institute is located at Beaumont Technologies' headquarters in Erie.
The first multiday instruction period for the apprenticeship began Nov. 12 and will focus on health and safety. The next two sessions will focus on plastic materials and mold design.
AIM's partners in the program are Clarion University and the Keystone Community Education Council. Lance Hummer of the Keystone CEC described the program as “a hybrid apprenticeship program” where participating companies decide on what is taught to their workers. He added that sign-ups for a second class of apprentices could begin in July, with sessions starting in September.
Keystone CEC is managing the administrative aspects of the program and helping eligible firms get reimbursed for almost two-thirds of the program's cost of $10,500 per employee.
At the Nov. 12 event, plastics company executives from participating firms were optimistic that the program would help improve their businesses.
“It's difficult to recruit and find people with these skill sets,” Heather Evans, human resources manager with injection molder Port Erie Plastics Inc. in Harborcreek, Pa., said. “This program is a way for us to invest in our employees.”
Rob Elchynski, operations manager for Viking Plastics in Corry, Pa., said that there's “a lack of available skilled workers in our industry” and that the AIM program is “a way to take someone with aptitude and get them the training they need.”
According to Ron Mick, plant manager at CJ Industries in Meadville, Pa., “it's hard to find talent, so when you do, you want to invest in them.” Harold Heath, operations manager at Leech Industries Inc. in Meadville, said that finding time to do training can be challenging. The AIM program could help in that way.
“We want someone who can touch buttons [on a control screen], not just someone who can turn a screw,” Heath said. “This is a way to get them more training.”
Matt Koket, president of injection molder GeorgeKo Industries Inc. in Erie, helped design the AIM apprenticeship program.
“There aren't a lot of people out there with this experience, and there aren't a lot of people who know about plastics,” he said. “We have to find a way to get them focused on training.”