Posted on 07-09-2021
Award-winning Pennsylvania program is leading the way for skills development statewide and nationally
Corry, PA, June 2021—The first class of the new American Institute of Injection Molding (AIM) Plastic Process Technician Apprenticeship Program graduated June 10, 2021, and 2nd shift Material Handler Ted Mickel from Viking Plastics in Corry, PA was part of the graduating class.
Conducted at Erie-based AIM Institute, the two-year plastic process technician apprenticeship program was developed to help bridge the skills gap in Northwestern Pennsylvania’s manufacturing workforce. Responding to the need for more skilled workers in the plastics manufacturing sector, the Keystone Community Education Council (KCEC) teamed up with the AIM Institute, Clarion University of PA, and the Appalachian Regional Commission to pioneer the program in collaboration with 12 plastics manufacturing companies in the region.
Rob Elchynski, operations manager for Viking Plastics, 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.”
An award-winning program
The program earned the 2019 Outstanding Group Apprenticeship Program Award by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s Apprenticeship and Training Office, which was presented to the AIM, Clarion University, and the KCEC. The program’s success has captured the attention of industry leaders in Ohio and Indiana and earned state and national recognition.
“Our program’s combination of hands-on experience and classroom learning provided by AIM and Clarion is tailored to the exact needs of the injection molders in our region,” said John Beaumont, Founder and Executive Director of AIM. “Our local plastics industry has been asking for training like this for years, and we are excited to be one of the educational institutions leading the charge to advance manufacturing in our area.”
Viking Plastics President and CEO Kelly Goodsel, along with KCEC Executive Director Lance Hummer and GeorgeKo Industries Inc. President Matt Koket, were leaders in designing the program and classes, recruiting representatives from the plastics industry, and training program vendors.
Following the graduation, Kelly Goodsel said, “Witnessing the graduation was very rewarding. Watching Ted Mickel’s growth at Viking Plastics and seeing organizations in Northwestern Pennsylvania committing to and sustaining this apprenticeship program makes all the efforts to get the program off the ground worthwhile. This program is a win-win, providing employees with career-building opportunities and integrating more technically-trained people into an industry that really needs them.”
Program goals and benefits
Graduate Ted Mickel from Viking Plastics entered the first cohort of the two-year apprenticeship program in March 2019 and said he was glad the company provided an opportunity he might not otherwise have had. “I wanted to start the program because it was an opportunity that I wouldn’t have taken on my own. It also put me in a different financial bracket and a better position to help my family. The program helped me work toward better problem-solving skills, by starting with the basics and working toward more complex solutions. Sometimes it’s better to start with the basics to be able to build toward more complex solutions in the future.”
The goal of the program is to create better leaders through courses on safety, team-building, quality control, and maintenance. Students complete 319 in-class training hours and 4,000 on-the-job hours, applying critical thinking to their knowledge of plastic materials, mold design and processing.
Participating plastics manufacturers also recognize that the apprenticeship program builds loyalty and creates the next generation of leaders within their companies. Apprentices can earn Pennsylvania State registered, industry-specific certifications, and the apprenticeship counts toward half of the credits needed to earn an associate degree of applied science in industrial technology from Clarion University.
Originally, new cohorts were planned to begin every other year; however, strong participation has enabled the start of new cohorts every year. Viking Plastics employee Justin Arnold is currently enrolled in the 3rd cohort of the program. Apprentices are currently being recruited for the 4th cohort, and Viking Plastics already has a candidate lined up to enroll.
About Viking Plastics
Founded in 1972, Viking Plastics is a privately held company delivering innovative products, including sealing solutions, custom injection molding, assembly, and post-molding secondary services. Viking Plastics’ multiple facilities house more than 60 global molding machines, with capabilities spanning the range from 50- to 720-ton injection molding, as well as capabilities including 2-shot, insert molding, and automated assembly cells. Viking Plastics is ISO/TS 16949:2009, ISO 14001:2015, ISO 9001:2015 and IATF certified.
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