Applications are being accepted for the Douglas County Manufacturing Certificate Program, which provides participants with free tuition for classroom work, plus a $10-an-hour manufacturing job at either Sauer-Danfoss or Berry Plastics in Lawrence.
Application packets are available from guidance counselors at Lawrence, Free State and Eudora high schools, and at Heartland Works, 2540 Iowa.
The application deadline is March 15. Candidates will be interviewed, and a minimum of 10 will be selected to enroll and work from June through December.
For more information, contact Stacy Walters at Heartland Works, (785) 580-6352.
The folks at Sauer-Danfoss make transmissions - big ones - for off-road construction equipment and oversized mowers.
Beginning late this spring, an innovative new program will mix vocational scholarship with hands-on work, all designed to give prospective full-time employees the best chance to succeed at Sauer-Danfoss, Berry Plastics or any other manufacturing operation.
The real work and real learning also will give participants a real chance to land what many people really want: a solid job.
"It's very important for us to find people that this is a good fit for, who want to do this work," said Jennifer Wolken, human relations generalist at the company's plant in the East Hills Business Park. "This will just really give them the experience that they wouldn't have otherwise, so that they know what it's like to work in a manufacturing facility and know the skills that are required."
The Douglas County Manufacturing Certificate Program is organized by Heartland Works, Johnson County Community College, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence and Eudora school districts, Sauer-Danfoss and Berry Plastics.
Beginning in June, about a dozen participants will be enrolled in basic manufacturing courses offered through the community college and conducted at the Lawrence Virtual School, 2145 La. Tuition - about $1,300 per participant - will be paid by Heartland Works, through financing provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Along with the classes, participants will work anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week at a participating manufacturer. Companies will pay each participant $10 an hour during what will be considered an internship.
The employment-based certification program will run through December, at which time participants will receive their certificates and, perhaps most important, the potential for landing full-time work at a participating manufacturer.
"The biggest thing to employers is getting people who have what it takes to stick with the program, to see it through," said Stacy Walters, a business consultant for Heartland Works, 2540 Iowa. "That proves more to them than anything to be learned through the program."
Sure, she said, participants will pick up plenty of necessary skills in class: the need for wearing safety goggles and steel-toed shoes; the importance of showing up for work on time and prepared to fit into a team environment; the basics for using tools and understanding how to handle industrial materials.
Anyone who can get through the classes, which will be conducted Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and operate well enough on the work floor will be positioned to move into a full-time job immediately.
As one manager told Walters: "If someone successfully completes this program, why wouldn't we hire them?"
"What you learn in the program will be very important," Walters said. "What you prove by completing it will be even more so."
Efforts to launch such vocational training in the area had been percolating for several years but had yet to coalesce into anything that could combine in-class instruction with at-work experience and payoffs.
Beth Johnson, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development, acknowledged that while the certification program may have been a long time in coming, its potential already looks bright.
There's talk of focusing efforts on specific manufacturing processes, such as for motors (such as at Sauer-Danfoss) or plastics (at Berry), or even reaching into segments poised for future growth, such as biosciences.
"Whatever a company's specialty is, hopefully we will have a second layer for this to allow some specialized training - engineering, or whatever it is - that turns out to be (an employee's) strong suit," Johnson said. "It will help them find a path."
The program also could help boost economic-development efforts, she said, by helping build a more qualified labor pool.
Wolken, at Sauer-Danfoss, said she was looking forward to seeing a half-dozen or so program participants join her and her 150 co-workers at the East Hills plant. The participants will be production operation technicians, either on an assembly line or in a machine cell where gears and rods are made.
"It's going to help them come into our environment and become more comfortable and productive faster," said Wolken, who started out at Sauer-Danfoss as a technician, working on the assembly line, before the company then paid her tuition to obtain a degree at Baker University. "People are going to be able to get a taste of this before they commit long-term.
"It's going to be a win-win for the businesses, the people, the community - everybody."