State makes big effort to upgrade tech training skills

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(Host) This year, Vermont is making a big effort to upgrade the skills of several thousand people in the workforce.

Part of the New Generation law that came out of Montpelier is a program that puts $3 million a year into high tech training that doesn’t come with a high school or college education.

That training upgrades the skills of potential employees in order to fill some of the complex jobs that are available in Vermont.

Some of those jobs have been left vacant because the companies don’t have the time to provide specialized training.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel tells us in this special report, the program seems to be making a difference.

(Sounds of the Husky Factory)

(Kinzel) At the Husky plant in Milton, employees operate sophisticated computerized equipment to build molding systems that are used by hundreds of companies to make a wide variety of plastic products from soda bottles to car parts.

The main assembly production area is the size of an indoor football field with very high ceilings. Several dozen pieces of equipment that resemble ten foot cubic chambers line the facility. Some of these machines cost more than $2 million.

Luke Pouliot has been working at Husky for several months. He’s employed as a grinder and he does very precise work.

(Pouliot) “So we pretty much take a plate that’s rough from the factory and we grind it down to a certain tolerance that’s called for in the blueprints to be within some of them are within 10 microns which is a fairly small number. One of your hairs is about 80 microns.”

(Kinzel) Luke got his job through an innovative workplace training program coordinated by a group known as Vermont HiTec. Financed partly with state funds, Vermont HiTec organizes an intense training program for individuals like Luke.

During a 2 to 3 month training period, participants attend class 8 hours a day and receive several hours of homework a night.

Vermont HiTec customizes the training programs to the needs of specific employers. The businesses then guarantee a job to people who successfully complete the program.

Luke says the intense training was great preparation for his job at Husky:

(Pouliot) “I was pretty much green walking into the program and I feel they did a nice job of educating us getting us a good basic ground laid so that we were able to walk in the door and be more trainable gets you ready to learn.”

(Kinzel) Doug Merrill is the operations director at Husky. He says the program represents a major investment by the state, the employer and most importantly the trainee.

(Merrill) “Because they’re spending 3 months unpaid working probably as hard as they’ll ever work in their lives. So all 3 three parties are very motivated to make this work. That’s a key difference between just bringing somebody off the street who just happened to answer an ad in the newspaper. These people have made a commitment to gain these skills to be successful.”

(Sounds of the Hazelett Strip Casting Company factory)

(Kinzel) Officials at the Hazelett Strip Casting Company in Colchester think this workplace training program is essential to their future.

The company employs roughly 185 people and ships its custom equipment to over 26 countries around the world.

Peter Rowan is the Human Resources director at the company.

He explains how a water jet drill can make a precision cut through a ten-inch section of metal:

(Rowan) “50,000 p.s.i. with a slurry of garnet dust in it kind of gives it an abrasive character. And it will cut with such precision that it’s called a machining center.”

(Kinzel) Rowan says the program is critical because most companies can’t afford to provide extensive training to unskilled employees:

(Rowan) “We don’t have the luxury of time anymore. We just don’t have the time that I think used to exist. The skills are much greater. It’s a complicated process. And there’s just so much more that’s required now in order to be competitive. And we are in global economy like everyone else and turning out a high quality machine is an expensive process.”

(Kinzel) Rick Hayden is the manufacturing manager at Hazelett. His office overlooks the company’s huge production area – on this warm summer day, the huge doors at the end of facility are open to facilitate air flow throughout the building:

(Hayden) “The skill set that we’re looking for isn’t being developed anymore aside from programs like Vermont Hi Tec so it’s difficult at all to find machinists, welders especially individuals just entering the field – the people that have the experience that we’re looking for are getting close to retirement.”

(Kinzel) Ryan Jones participated in the Vermont HiTec training program this winter and has been working at Hazelett for several months:

(Jones) “I can’t imagine learning as much as I did in the class, outside of the class in that amount of time. In 9 weeks I learned a lot more than I’d already known and I had taken schooling for about two years to do that. It was pretty hard. But it was a realistic amount. There was class every day and homework every night. But it was a fair amount to what we needed to learn, so we could be productive in a job straight out of class.”

(Kinzel) Jerry Ghazi is the president of Vermont HiTec. He says the key to the program is a high level of trust for both the trainee and the employer. He says the participants need to trust that they can learn the skills for a specific job:

(Ghazi) “But I possess none of the skills, none of the math skills, none of the customer services skills etc And you’re going to be able to educate me in this in a very rapid way and intense way. And the answer is always yes we can, if you trust us and follow our process.'”

(Kinzel) And Ghazi says employers have to trust that graduates of the program will have the ability to transition right into a job and have the desire to learn additional skills.

(Ghazi) “It’s a big leap of faith on their part to say I found someone who organizationally fits but possesses no competencies. Can this Hi Tec program truly deliver the technical competencies and prove those at the end? And one of the great things about our program is that employers only get those individuals who successfully complete our program. Now we have a near 100% completion rate.”

(Kinzel) Not all the jobs are based in the machine equipment industry. is a fast growing business in Burlington that occupies virtually every nook and cranny in an old brick building on Pine Street.

Business is so good that the company is moving part of its operation to a second building across the street.

The company works with more than 3000 auto dealers across the country to help them maximize their sales potential by introducing new marketing ideas on the dealer’s website. has roughly 150 employees and about a third of them were hired through the workplace training program. Rick Gibbs is one of co founders of

(Gibbs) “We have massive growth going on right now and to keep up with that growth we need certain types of jobs and positions filled. A lot of it has to do with the actual training of the specifics of as well. So in order to sort of boot strap that process we have to do these training programs in nice blocks of people – 6 to 10 at a time.”

(Kinzel) Susan Cronin joined through the training program and is now employed as the company’s client relations manager. She left a job in the technology field 7 years ago. She says the training program offered her a way to re-enter the workforce:

(Cronin) “It’s hard to convince somebody that you have the skills when they don’t see that you’ve been to school recently or are still in the technology area. it was an area that I was very interested in. So I knew I could get more training through this and then get a job at in an area that I was interested in hopefully a fulfilling career!”

(Kinzel) Cindy Demarinis was laid off at IBM several years ago. She says the workforce training program has been a great experience:

(Demarinis) “It took me from being unemployed to now making more money than I made at IBM to a new career, new challenge and it’s a good opportunity. That program is wonderful. It helps retrain you for a new career that you didn’t even think you’d be going in in a career path.”

(Kinzel) Demarinis says this program has had a major impact on her life and she encourages anyone else seeking a career change to consider enrolling in one of these training programs.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel.

Related Links:

Vermont HITEC

Vermont Training Program at the Department of Economic Development
828 – 5235
Phil Fagan, director

Workplace Training Programs at the Department of Labor

Vermont HITEC
Jerry Ghazi, president

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