Training Molds Plastics Employees

    MUSKEGON HEIGHTS — The results are proof of the need.

    And the need for workers in Muskegon County who can operate plastics molding machines is so great that people who’ve gone through an intensive, two-week training program usually have had a job offer waiting for them when they were done.

    That’s exactly how organizers of the Plastics Tech Training Center in Muskegon hoped things would work out when they opened the facility in mid-2001.

    “We couldn’t keep up with the flow of students. We couldn’t keep up with the demand. A lot of time we didn’t even have the people for a lot of the jobs that were coming in,” said Chad Bentley, a former instructor at Plastics Tech Training Center in Muskegon Heights who now serves on a business advisory panel that helps direct the center.

    “It shows we’re on the right track,” Bentley said.

    The Plastics Tech Training Center provides training in plastics injection molding equipment to Muskegon Heights High School students, as well as for adults who are underemployed, displaced from a job or have other barriers to employment such as a physical disability.

    The center moved last month into more spacious quarters at the new Muskegon Heights High School on Sanford Street.

    The training program is the product of a partnership between the Muskegon Heights Public Schools, Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, the Michigan Department of Career Development and representatives from the local plastics industry who make up the Plastics Technology Business Advisory Council.

    Formation of the training center stems from the efforts of Goodwill Industries to develop a program to address a need for skilled workers in the local plastics industry.

    Working with the private sector, and with the aid of Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Goodwill Industries was able to develop a training program and opened the center in June 2001.

    Part of the drive behind the center was to replicate the success of a similar venture at the Kent Skills Center in Kent County, said Daniel Christensen, the former head of workforce development at Goodwill Industries who now works as a private consultant and serves on the advisory council.

    “We had an idea it could work here because it did work there,” Christensen said.

    Today, the Plastics Tech Training Center provides training in two fashions: to high school students as part of Muskegon Heights’ manufacturing technology class; and to adults seeking to learn a new job skill.

    For high school students, the goal is to steer them into an apprenticeship program or straight to a position with a local company. The 10-day adult program provides participants — many of whom were directed to Goodwill Industries for job training after being displaced — with the skills they need for entry level in the plastics industry, Bentley said.

    The adult course includes additional employment skills and job placement. The program also provides participants an understanding of the industry so they are prepared to move not just into a job but into a career.

    “We want to give them more than a job. We want to give them something they can go into and progress and have a career,” said Bentley, who now works as an engineer for Magna Donnelly in Holland.

    Private-sector support for the venture has been crucial to its early success. Several plastics firms in Muskegon County and northern Ottawa County provided staff with the technical expertise that was needed to develop the curriculum, and then donated equipment and materials.

    In return, plastics firms finally had a local source to which they could turn for a trained labor pool.

    At Lakeshore Diversified Products in Grand Haven, the Plastics Tech Training Center has resulted in a reduced training period for new employees and helped to stabilize employee turnover, said Catherine Linstrom, the company’s human resources chief.

    “It has been both a benefit and a cost savings to hire directly from the program,” Linstrom said.           

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