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If you fit the mold, skilled jobs available

Plastics manufacturers and Pinellas Tech team up on an apprentice program to attract and train workers.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


Plastics molding, a bigger industry in Pinellas County than you might guess, is short of skilled workers.

Some plastics manufacturers joined forces with Pinellas Technical Education Center in Clearwater to build and furnish a new lab for PTEC's two-year industrial plastics technician apprentice program. Students from the program could eventually earn $15 to $18 an hour, and the businesses will have an increased supply of workers.

"One of the biggest problems in plastic injection molding is getting and retaining people," said Steven C. Meitzen, vice president of sales and marketing for Ven-Tel Plastics Corp. in Pinellas Park.

Ven-Tel, which makes everything from plastic scallop shells on night lights to tracheotomy tubes, has loaned four machines valued at about $250,000 to PTEC for the program.

Students in the apprentice program learn to handle machines that may be punching out small caps for medicine bottles or forming containers for lip balm. They have classroom instruction in the makeup of plastic, learn to operate computers and become familiar with related tasks such as reading blueprints.

Meitzen is helping recruit students for the apprentice program. It is an advantage to plastics companies to put employees in the program because it costs neither the company nor the workers any money and eventually produces higher skilled employees.

"We are always looking for good people," Meitzen said of Ven-Tel. "When you have three shifts, it's hardest to fill the third shift."

Even though the county has 107 plastics manufacturers, the industry is not immediately identified as one of Pinellas' bigger businesses.

"Plastics doesn't have a lot of recognition," said Ken McManaway, industry services coordinator at PTEC. "It's new as far as we are dealing with an industry and careers."

"It is (an industry) that has been strong and continues to strengthen," said Ron Waselewski, marketing manager for economic development.

"As the medical devices manufacturing field continues to grow and continues to be a very healthy industry, plastics will ride along," Waselewski said.

He praised PTEC's plastics curriculum as "really strong. It is supplying much needed workers."

PTEC is holding an open house Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. to show both prospective students and plastics manufacturers its new lab. McManaway said the school provided the space and built the lab and four companies donated or loaned equipment. In addition to Ven-Tel, the companies are M/S Plastek Inc. in Tampa, Florida Plastics Machinery Group Inc. in Winter Park and Essilor of America in St. Petersburg.

The industrial plastics apprentice program started early last year and now has about seven students. With the new lab, McManaway expects as many as 20 for the session that starts this fall.

Students are full-time workers who attend classes twice a week at night, McManaway said. They must be high-school graduates or have passed the General Educational Development test. PTEC can help get the GED, he said. It also has a list of plastics manufacturers where prospective students can interview for jobs.

For more information, call PTEC at (727) 538-7167, ext. 1095.

"We (the plastics industry) are really an opportunity for people who don't have skills to get skills and grow," said Dave Outlaw, plant manager at Precise Technology in St. Petersburg. Precise makes lip balm tubes and molds the ball for Downey fabric softener.

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