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Plastic: It’s a really big deal

Most of the classes for the new plastics program will take place in the MTEC building on the Harrison campus. Photo by JANET SOWLE.

Most of the classes for the new plastics program will take place in the MTEC building on the Harrison campus.
Photo by JANET SOWLE.

By JANET SOWLE, Editor

Plastic means big money in mid Michigan. From credit cards to car parts, home interior decorations to milk jugs, many things in everyday life are made of plastic or made by a plastic part. More things are being made of plastic every day and that means more mid Michigan jobs.

There is a large group of plastic companies in the mid Michigan area and they are a big part of our local economy, according to Scott Govitz, Director of M-Tec at Mid Michigan Community College (MMCC). These companies are in desperate need of middle-skilled workers but there aren’t enough people to fill those jobs. This particular skill set has dried up throughout the country. Typically, there are two jobs for every person who is trained.

CopsDoughnutsMMCC was awarded a three-year $717,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) last July. “Michigan Works helped us get the grant started,” Govitz said. “The real credit goes to Carol Churchill, MMCC’s president, and Carol Darlington, NEED HER TITLE. They pulled together a lot of info in a short period of time.”

According to Plastics Grant Coordinator Steven Fosgard, the grants typically go to large community colleges and technological centers in large markets. Rarely do they go to a small community college, especially those in rural areas. The NSF looks at a wide variety of criteria before awarding a grant, including the need in the local market, if the program can service other companies, and if the college is able to build on what they already have.

Working with local companies helps to secure the grant. “It helped that we had a long-term partnership with local companies already,” Govitz said.

“The industry as a whole has a real need for skilled employees,” said Fosgard. “This program will create stackable credentials.” There is a wait list to get into the plastics program at Ferris State University and they will be helping to develop MMCC’s program.

The laddered program at MMCC offers three levels. The first level, Training Credential,  includes 120 hours of training. People with this credential can expect to make about $8-$12 per hour. Jobs include basic machine operator, assembler and warehouse or shipping/receiving operator and more. The second level is an Academic Certificate in Plastics Technology. Those with this certificate typically make $10-$15 per hour working as machine handlers, quality control or leading tooling tender. With an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science Plastics Technology, one can expect to earn $15-$20 or more per hour as a die/mold setter, supervisor or tooling assistant.

Students who want to get their engineering degrees can take their first two years at MMCC and their last two years at Ferris. Those who choose to get their engineering degree should expect to start at about $60,000 per year.

These jobs aren’t limited to the plastics field. “Job skills are applicable to other areas of manufacturing as well,” Govitz said. “We’ve had a number of tech areas on hold while we get this program going. These will come back as part of this program. They’ll all integrate together.”

MMCC and the plastic program is part of the bigger picture of mid Michigan’s economic success. “If local employers can’t go after a contract because they don’t have the employees, we have to fill that need,” Govitz said.

He continued to explain that when employees are working, they’re paying taxes, buying automobiles and houses, getting a coffee at the local convenience store on their way to work and more. All of these affect the success of mid Michigan’s economy. With the increase of skilled workforce in the area, Govitz stressed that there is nothing to prevent companies who need that workforce from moving to the area.

With the exception of the medical field, manufacturers need someone from every degree MMCC offers. Fosgard encouraged students in these other fields to take an introductory manufacturing class. He said it will give them a leg up when they are attempting to get a job with a manufacturing company.

Long-term goals for the area include creating a tech center in Mt. Pleasant. Trained welders, machinists and more are in demand in the area. The new center will be on the Doan campus at the corner of Broadway and Summerton roads but will be located in a separate building. The $3 million project will be funded through philanthropy.

Both the new plastics program and the new tech center will include entrepreneurship as part of their training.

Plastic grant funds will go toward curriculum development, equipment, staffing, teaching the community about the jobs that are available, and factory tours. Area students in grades K-12 will have the opportunity to learn about plastics and potential jobs through the Plasti-Van program, which visits the schools.

For more information about the program, contact Steven Fosgard at (989) 386-6620 or sfosgard@midmich.edu.

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