Graduates, employers deem ‘Fit for PM’ class a success

ST. MARYS – The powder metal industry is looking for dedicated entry-level employees—and the eight graduates of the “Fit for Powder Metal Program” course that concluded last week have high hopes that they will fit the bill. The seven-week course was offered through a grant from Highmark’s Local Workforce Initiative and coordinated by the Community Education Council of Elk and Cameron Counties (CEC), PA CareerLink and the North Central Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and taught attendees about the history and current trends of the powder metal (PM) industry, as well as job readiness and communications skills. The course concluded last Monday with 15-minute, one-on-one interviews for each graduate with several area employers; a certificate ceremony; and lunch. CEC Director of Educational Services Kate Lomax, who wrote the majority of the grant, said the course was developed over several months with input from staff at CEC, North Central, CareerLink, and participating employers. "This program, the whole idea came about over probably six months of conversations and meetings about various things with employers in that it kept coming up-- that no one can train a die setter overnight, no one can train a machinist overnight. Those positions take decades to become a very skilled die setter or machinist. And so what the powder metal employers in particular had been saying was, 'We just need people, we need to know that they're committed and they're a good fit,'" Lomax said. The course has a value of about $2,500 per person, but it was offered free to participants through the grant; their only costs were for travel and a payment of $75 to take the drug test they were required to pass prior to enrollment. The CEC also provided each graduate with a $50 check to offset travel expenses incurred throughout the program. Lomax said employers are willing to train people; what they need is "help finding them." "So that's what this program was really written [for], in the sense that it was really a whole screening process for the employers. I mean, we've screened them to the point where they've done the drug test, they've shown commitment by showing up for the last seven weeks at various times, for two weeks every day at the same time, different locations," Lomax said. CEC Executive Director Kris Kronenwetter said course participants racked up more than 30 hours of hands-on experience in a metal shop learning safety and basic powder metal (PM) processes, as well as the general operation of the various equipment involved. They also spent more than 30 hours in the classroom improving communication skills and learning about PM theory, processes, and markets. Other lessons included applied mathematic and reading assessments, basic computer skills, teamwork, interviewing skills and resume writing. The different sections of the course were taught by area individuals with a high level experience in the PM field, including Al Dornisch, an MPIF Fellow; Butch Casilio, a recently retired metal shop instructor at St. Marys Area High School with 30 years of experience in the industry; and Cory Straub, a die setter with over 20 years of experience who is also a skilled communications expert in his role as a longtime member of Elk County Toastmasters. CareerLink Employability Counselor/Instructor Linda Franco also helped students prepare and write resumes, which they handed out during their one-on-one 15-minute interviews with the participating employers: Blue Water Thermal Solutions, Horizon Technology LLC, Keystone Powdered Metal Company, Metal Powder Products, Precision Compacted Components, Metaldyne Sintered Ridgway LLC, GKN Sinter Metals, and Alpha Sintered Metals Inc."People take it [resume] for granted, but there's a lot of people who don't know how [to put one together]," Kronenwetter said. Participants received a WorkKeys Career Readiness Certificate to show to employers indicating they have acquired various employable skills. They also visited several area plants that ranged in scope and size, from small five-person facilities to those employing more than 100 people. "They had three different tours. They went to Keystone, which is a very large company; they went to Horizon, which is kind of small to medium, and then they went to one which is just a startup company over in Ridgway -- it's Elk County Powdered Metal, which is like five or six employees. It's just a new startup company," Kronenwetter said. "And all of the instructors who worked as part of this program always hit on the idea of the career ladders within powdered metal, and that's the idea that, you may start out at entry level or just above entry level position and wage-- it's easy to move up," Lomax said. "If you show initiative, if you show up every day, and you do what you're asked to do, you go in and you make yourself busy and you demonstrate a good work ethic, all of the employers across the board have always said you will move yourself up because they will train you." Students said they liked the course because they believe it gave them the knowledge necessary to get a foot in the door of the industry, which is a dominant force locally. Program graduate Ryan Wehler already has a four-year degree in Marketing Management from The Pennsylvania State University which he earned in May, but said he wanted to attend the program to get hands-on experience and learn about the industry. He termed the program “excellent” and said he would recommend it to others. “My degree is in sales, and I have no powder metal experience, and I feel you have to have knowledge in powder metal before you can sell it," Wehler said. ”I thought the program was great. It was a great way to learn a little bit more about the industry, not only with the history and the background-- we also got hands-on experience. We got an opportunity to ask questions with experts, like Al Dornisch, who have been in the industry for over 50 years."Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.