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Training initiative taps farm workers to fill manufacturing needs

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Harrisburg Area Community College is partnering with a nonprofit serving the migrant farm worker community to train workers in computer numerical control manufacturing for which stakeholders say they need good employees.

Rochester, N.Y.-based PathStone Corp. approached HACC to run a program geared toward members of the community referred to as transitional workers, said Cheryl Deitz, HACC coordinator of manufacturing and green technology workforce training.

Many of them, young and old, have worked in the fields for many years and want to settle down but lack specific skills needed to do something else, she said.

So HACC set to work adapting a CNC machining program and also lined up a partnership with Hanover-based R.H. Sheppard Co. Inc., which has a need for workers with these skills, Deitz said.

R.H. Sheppard already is a HACC partner through the Hanover Center for Workforce Excellence, a regional workforce training initiative with space at the company's campus, Deitz said.

HACC tested its existing CNC machining curriculum against the needs at R.H. Sheppard and also added more soft skills training such as basic math and measurements, communication and résumé writing, she said.

Instructors tell the workers that during interviews they should stress they are good, willing workers, she said. They are eager and want to take on as much as they can, and have other pertinent attributes they've developed as pickers, Deitz said.

"That is valued by employers," she said.

Eight students enrolled in the program's inaugural run from November through January, she said. R.H. Sheppard has guaranteed interviews with each student who completes the coursework, Deitz said.

There also are plans to expand beyond the farm worker community and to potentially partner with other manufacturers, she said.

R.H. Sheppard was "very interested" when HACC approached it with the training program, said Alan Beily, a consultant for training and education working with R.H. Sheppard.

Beily said he was a high school guidance counselor for 32 years and now works to develop training programs and initiatives in the manufacturing field and secure grants to help pay for them.

"We need to expose kids to careers that don't necessarily require four years of college," Beily said.

Before this program, R.H. Sheppard would have to shut down a line to train people, so training time and expenses are cut down, he said.

A good number of the company's 1,000 workers are Hispanic, and the firm does a lot of training to develop the workers' English skills and to train supervisors to work with them, Beily said.

Also, if a company can get people who come to work every day on time and work well with others, it can train them in the rest, Beily said. Too many people don't have the soft skills that include coming to work on time every day, he said.

Those skills are "the backbone of the whole thing," Beily said.

The program was appealing for R.H. Sheppard because the training helps to "decrease the internal learning curve" and involves people who have committed to staying in the area through signing up for the classes, Vice President of Manufacturing Oliver W. Hoar said.

It is difficult to find someone right off the street who has the skills needed to work as an operator at R.H. Sheppard, which makes engineered products for heavy trucks and diesel engines and has a foundry division making complex, intricate castings, he said.

The firm has a need for workers because of new business, backfilling positions vacated by retirees and a "nice rebound" in the trucking industry, Hoar said.

Adding to the difficulty is getting people who show up on time and work hard every day, he said.

Hoar said he was impressed at a recent tour for the program's students that was supposed to last an hour or an hour and a half.

Because of the students' curiosity and questions that indicated strengths as potential workers, the tour took well more than 2½ hours, he said.

Hoar said, "They really did ask some phenomenal questions."

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