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WIB, Penn State Receive Multi-Million-Dollar Grant for Plastics Training

ERIE − U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao has announced that the Pennsylvania State Workforce Investment Board, in collaboration with Penn State, will receive a $3.75 million grant from the Department of Labor to increase business retention and growth within the plastics industry. The grant, which is in support of the Pennsylvania Plastics Initiative, will provide funding to help link existing and emerging regional initiatives into a broader statewide network to support every facet of the plastics industry’s development.

“The Plastics Industry in Pennsylvania already has a competitive advantage,” says Sandi Vito, Pennsylvania’s Deputy Secretary for Workforce Development. “The partners we’ve assembled and this funding will help ensure that workers in the plastics industry across the state have the skills and education required for this evolving industry.”

The network is designed to use the statewide workforce investment system to link established or emerging local industry partnerships with statewide economic, workforce and educational resources and align and integrate the aggregate resources of a statewide educational institution. Partners in this effort include the Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board, Penn State, Pennsylvania College of Technology, a consortium of local WIBs and the statewide system of Industrial Resource Centers and Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

“Penn State is playing a leadership role with the State Workforce Investment Board, to build upon our capabilities in plastics technology transfer and workforce preparation” says Vice President for Outreach Craig D. Weidemann. “This initiative is unique in that it brings together a very comprehensive approach of many educational institutions and government programs working with the private sector to advance a key industry sector in Pennsylvania. This collaborative effort, made possible by the U.S. Department of Labor and Secretary Chao, will serve as a national model designed for replication with other industries.”

Penn State, through its affiliate Pennsylvania College of Technology and Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, comes into the project as a full partner. The project also will rely heavily on Penn State Cooperative Extension and Penn State’s Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program for research.

“This initiative, and partnerships it has created, are designed to serve as a statewide template for the integration of workforce, economic development and education to support other key competitive industry clusters in the Commonwealth,” says Jack Gido, director of Penn State’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “Recognizing that the face of manufacturing is rapidly changing with higher and different skill sets in critical jobs, it is imperative that increased emphasis be placed on innovation and training to produce a productive and responsive workforce.”

The plastics degree programs offered at Penn College and Penn State Erie represent two of only four in the country that are accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology.

Since 1987, the plastics engineering technology program at Penn State Erie has supported the region’s growing plastics industry with a state-of-the-art plastics laboratory, industry-seasoned faculty, outreach through the Plastics Technology Center, and highly skilled plastics engineering technology graduates.

“Given the resources available through Penn State,” says Penn State Erie CEO and Dean Jack Burke, “this grant has great potential to increase the competitiveness of the region’s plastics industry. More importantly, it will help retain current jobs and create new jobs in an industry that is vital to our future.”

Davie Jane Gilmour, president of Pennsylvania College of Technology, said that recent studies commissioned by the Commonwealth indicate that the plastics industry is well-positioned for growth in Pennsylvania. “This project provides a comprehensive, statewide initiative to support the workforce development needs of the plastics industry and helps supply the trained workers required to keep this industry competitive,” she says.

Penn College has awarded 270 associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in plastics and polymer technology and engineering technology majors. Penn College also is home to the Plastics Manufacturing Center, one of the top plastic technology centers in the country, with extensive material testing laboratories, industrial scale process equipment, world-class training programs, and highly skilled consulting services. The center supports all types of plastics processing technologies, including injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and rotomolding.

“This award will help the Commonwealth’s plastics industry retain a leadership role in the face of increasing global competition,” Gilmour adds. “By providing scholarships for students and helping incumbent workers maintain competitive skills, the funding will be an important step in keeping Pennsylvania manufacturers in step with advances in polymer materials and processing technologies.”

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