Another cohort of the Award-winning Pennslyvania Plastics Process Technician (PPT) Apprenticeship Program has graduated, sharing with the Keystone Community Education Council their experiences.
A testimonial provided by Ronald J. Mick, Cohort 4:
AIM was a life changing opportunity granted to me through my employer. The program gave me an industry wide perspective of injection molding. It allowed me to understand departments and areas of my shop I haven’t experienced or worked with. Since completing [the PPT Apprenticeship Program] I have been able to communicate with those departments and troubleshoot problems on the floor. Learning about other departments and roles within the industry has improved my communication skills and changed the way I think about processing.
When I started the program, I was a technician on third shift. As I grew and continued to learn I was able to advance in my company. After my first year I obtained a supervisor role and have recently accepted an engineering position in the quality department. I was able to take what I learned at AIM and use it to better myself and advance in my company. The information I learned was relevant to my job and had an immediate impact on my position day-to-day. Learning the basics in mold design, equipment and maintenance, materials and molding allowed me to think and troubleshoot in a way I was unable to do previously. I began to process with a more wholistic view and understanding. My knowledge is transferable to more scenarios and situations. It doesn’t matter as much if I have experienced them before or not. AIM helped explain “why” even when I may have already knew “how.”
The AIM facility at Beaumont was top notch and conducive to learning. It was a comfortable place that provided a large variety of snacks, a tasty lunch, and the coffee was beyond words. The visual aids and examples provided in the program helped me understand things on a new level. They allowed me to experience and see things I had never seen or knew about in theory only. I particularly enjoyed the water cart where I could see baffles and bubblers in action, and I enjoyed the sectioned diagram of a press barrel. The facility contained a variety of different types of presses I have never run or used before and had unique mold designs available to break down and study. It was exciting to see some of the new advances in equipment and technology in the field.
The instructors came from various shops around the country and had various backgrounds in the industry. They were helpful when I needed to reach out to them and responded quickly. When in class each of them challenged me and were instrumental in developing my approach to processing. The instructors were experts in their field and opened my mind to new information and possibilities. I felt the strength of the program was in their staff and personnel.
I would recommend this class for various positions that work in the injection molding field. I feel that although processing is the focus of the program, other positions such as Mechanical Engineers, Maintenance, Management and other leadership positions could benefit greatly. The program gives a larger and more complete view of the industry. It provides the latest in news and innovation that could keep companies up to date and moving forward.
Thank you for Everything.
A testimonial provided by Corey Harned, Cohort 4:
I am so thankful for the opportunity to further my education with the Pennsylvania Plastics Process Technician Apprenticeship Program. This is a highly sought after class at my workplace, so I was honored to represent our company and participate in one of the first cohorts. There aren’t many courses like this out there, so I jumped on board immediately. I thought this would be a great chance to better myself, and my company overall. I wished I had taken plastics in college, but I didn’t know I wanted to go this route when I was younger. AIM is presented as a second chance for people like me, who may have missed out on this career path early on and decided to go in this direction. It seems to me most of the learning in this field, at least in the last few years, has all just been passed down generationally and all learned on the job. This is a fairly new idea, and it’s a great way to learn new techniques, apply real studies, and be able to perform various scientific molding techniques. [This program] really went deep, teaching the how and why things work how they do, not just because it’s how we do it. So, it really answered a lot of questions for me on why we do the things we do.
AIM also helped me really open up personally to new ideas and broaden my view of the plastics industry. It was interesting being in class with people from all over the state, with diverse backgrounds, and from all different companies. It was eye opening to me to see how many different ways other companies do things, and all the different styles people use, but at the same time seeing how much we had in common. I really enjoyed the social aspects of the class and bonding with my classmates. We became really close, which led to many deep discussions and helped us all see things from different perspectives. I had a lot of fun with the group and made a lot of new friends. Also, the teachers at AIM come from interesting backgrounds, and Beaumont is one of the leading companies in future technologies. The teachers all have so much real-life experience and knowledge, so it was nice to be able to pick their brains and ask them all the questions we had pertaining to plastics. By the end of the [program] it felt like the AIM teachers felt very much in our friend circle as well. They are some of the brightest people in the field, so it was an honor to be able to study under them and have role models to look up to. Graduating AIM was a huge steppingstone for me which opened many new doors for my future. It has honestly been a life changing experience and has pole vaulted me into a new career path that I really enjoy. After all the hard work and studying, I’ve even been fortunate enough to move up higher in my company and assume more responsibilities.
I feel AIM taught a very diverse program, and it was well structured. It was fun looking forward to the next course every few months. I feel like the [apprenticeship program] was laid out very well, taking one step at a time and always tying the information into the next section. Many of the classes I had no knowledge or background in, so it was mostly all new learning experiences for me. In this field I’ve found it’s very important to know a little bit in every field to be able to piece everything. One great piece of advice I was given was to try and be a master in my field and then have a minor in all the others that surround it. I’m now able to communicate and collaborate throughout every department at my workplace. I’ve enhanced my ability to think critically and contribute to discussions with quality or molding design to reach important conclusions. I feel like I’ve got a much better understanding of how everything comes together in my company overall, and I can really see the big picture.
Overall, I loved the classroom, the lab, the teachers, and free coffee and snacks. It was a perfect size class and lab to get that 1 on 1 time if I ever needed it. There were a few classes I liked more than others, but all of the main courses were outstanding. If I can, I’ll try to add suggestions or feedback hoping to improve the program and help the future students. I would say I was at a perfect time in my young career to be enrolled in this class. I was still pretty new at this when I was enrolled, as I had done mold setups for a little over a year and been a process technician for maybe 2 years to that point. This being a Process Technician Apprenticeship Program, I was able to learn a lot of new ideas, but at the same time reinforce much of what I had already learned. I think this is a perfect course for someone like me, who had little or not much experience in the field. I would suggest this for companies to send employees who are just getting their feet wet, and who can benefit from learning more. I would also consider sending someone that is driven and wants to continue to grow. Someone that is going to put in a lot of effort by bettering themselves and their company. There is a lot of homework, reviewing, studying, and time dedication that goes into this. This is a big investment for the student, the company, and the program so it should be honored and treated as such. In my opinion, this class wouldn’t be as beneficial for someone with say 10 years’ experience where a lot of the tracks are already laid, and they have a strong foundation they’ve built on. Granted, there is always more knowledge to gain, and I feel anyone could learn new things by going here. Molding 1 and 2, or at least the final course does get you on the path to possibly becoming an engineer. The end feels like an introduction to engineering, which would be the next step in the program which is what I really liked about it.
The only other thing I was disappointed in was that we never really got to do any real-life scenario processing on the machines. I think it’s extremely beneficial, at least for me, to see problems firsthand that might appear in the real world. Even if it’s just brainstorming the approach to fixing defects or press issues real time. It’s one thing to be able to read down a list of possible fixes for burn, or bubbles, etc. but to actually encounter them and have to try to fix them is a whole different animal. Sometimes those things don’t always work, so you need to be able to work through the problem-solving side of things. I think that would make for great discussion in the class and exercises the group can all experience together. I know here they teach you there to trust the process, and a lot of those things can be avoided if you prepare for it and avoid it in the beginning, but I’ve seen it many times that problems do riseup eventually. We were shown a lot of defective parts and told what to do or try to do in a lot of situations but that isn’t the same. We did do a lot of studies, and worked on skills that can keep you from getting certain problems, but sometimes that’s going to be out of your control. I just wish we had a course or could have spent time on doing that sort of thing to actually become better processors as that’s a big part of the job, at least where I work.
Overall, I truly enjoyed every minute of my time at AIM, it was something to look forward to every few months. I will truly miss it and everyone that I met and learned from there. The ability to be able to take time out of the everyday grind at work and learn new skills to better myself was so invaluable. I am very proud of how I did in the class, and I would consider it one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is starting out in this field, as it will lead to great things, and a fulfilling life as a plastics process technician. The plastics industry is fun and exciting as every day is different and always presents new challenges. These opportunities are rare and hard to come by so I would suggest jumping at the chance to go to AIM if it ever presents itself. Thank You to everyone at AIM and involved in the Apprenticeship Program!