The Erie area of northwestern Pennsylvania, home to a high concentration of plastics companies, has received a $49,950 grant from the state to launch a "preapprenticeship" program to promote careers in plastics.
Eileen Cipriani, deputy secretary for workforce development, visited Executool Precision Tooling Inc., an Erie mold maker and injection molder, on Feb. 6 to outline the program.
The preapprenticeship will recruit, train and educate local students about the opportunities in plastics in northwestern Pennsylvania. Superintendents from two local school districts attended the event.
The goal of the program is to let people know about job opportunities in plastics, Executool President Gary Mayes said.
"It's like a collaboration of trying to get the message out that there are jobs in the plastics industry. Everybody's pushing college on everybody. I just feel like the message needs to get out," Mayes said.
The preapprenticeship grant is part of Pennsylvania's PAsmart initiative to boost workforce skills. Since Executool runs a registered apprenticeship program in tool and die making, the preapprentices can move into a full-time job with Executool, said Ben Wilson, director of workforce development for the Greater Erie Community Action Committee. GECAC received the grant and will administer the program.
The goal is for the preapprentices to move into full apprenticeships at area companies, Wilson said.
Wilson said the money will be used to hire a person to help recruitment efforts and coordinate among Penn State Erie, Executool, and Erie Together, a group that works to prevent and reduce poverty in the area.
Penn State Erie will offer technical instruction for the program.
Other local companies that have registered apprenticeship programs can contact him at GECAC.
"We are looking to work with more companies that want to become part of this state network," he said.
Wilson said the plastics industry needs to attract younger people.
"You have a workforce that is retiring and [manufacturing companies] are afraid they won't have the talent to fill," he said.
Executool, which Mayes, a master toolmaker, founded in 1992, employs 65 people making molds and running a molding department with 17 injection molding machines with clamping forces ranging from 50-200 tons. The molding area does prototyping, mold sampling and production molding.
"It's been difficult to find good employees," Mayes said. "We've been hiring people for our plastics molding department and training them from the ground up. You can bring people off the street — material handling and operators. And if they are good employees, we can bring them over to the tooling side and start grooming them for tooling."
Penn State Erie already runs a free-of-charge class giving an introduction to injection molding. The 10-week online class includes two hands-on sessions at the college.
Michelle Hartmann, director of Penn State Erie's Office of Community and Workforce Programs, said the school started the class about a year and a half ago. Officials are looking for funding to continue the introductory class after September, she said.
Shawn Jones, tooling coordinator at Executool, said three employees have taken the class. A fourth employee is just starting the course.
Mayes and Jones said Executool found out about the preapprenticeship program when the company started a tool and die apprenticeship program last year. They met people from the state and learned about other funds available to promote industry, Jones said.
Mayes said Executool offered apprenticeships years ago but stopped during an economic downturn.