Coons visit puts focus on Polytech High School’s lab

Adult Education Instructor Leonard Massotti explains training proceedures to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in the federally-funded Delaware Manufacturing Development Center’s Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) Lab at Polytech High School. Sen.Coons visited the school Friday in honor of Manufacturing Day. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

Adult Education Instructor Leonard Massotti explains training proceedures to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in the federally-funded Delaware Manufacturing Development Center’s Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) Lab at Polytech High School. Sen.Coons visited the school Friday in honor of Manufacturing Day. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

WOODSIDE — “This is a prime example of working together working,” said Michael Scuse, U.S. Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.

The official noted the collaboration between the Delaware Department of Economic Development, the USDA and several affiliated business partners to fund, operate and support a training lab at Polytech High School in Woodside.

Mr. Scuse and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., visited Polytech High on Friday.

They were there to examine the USDA Rural Development-funded Delaware Manufacturing Development Center’s Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) Lab located on the campus.

The pair toured the state in honor of Manufacturing Day, also dropping in on the research and manufacturing facilities at Merck Animal Health Labs in Millsboro and the Croda Inc. facility that produces bio-based chemicals in New Castle.

During the visit, they met with manufacturers who have used the lab to evaluate, hire and train employees. They also had a working lunch with program instructors, employers and employees who were hired as a result of the USDA project.

Opened in January 2015, the lab has four PLC training benches and other automation equipment that was supported by a $50,000 USDA Rural Development grant.

Its primary purpose is to address a manufacturing skills shortage impacting local industries.

Students entering the manufacturing field or people already in the workforce that need to learn new skills can receive training using the same tools, components and systems they will use in the manufacturing facility.

Teachers can also take the training offsite and teach manufacturing skills at the local manufacturing sites.

The program is thought to result in cost savings for local employers who would otherwise have to send employees hundreds of miles away to receive specialized training.

Adult Education Instructor Leonard Massotti, who teaches in the lab, said that Edgewell Personal Care has already been able to make good use of the program.

“Edgewell has taken their operators, one lady has even been with them for 40 years, and trained them in class and out on the lab floor with us,” said Mr. Massotti. “They’re seeing people grow from where they were, to doing things they never thought they’d be able to do. The response from Edgewell specifically has been great, they’ve turned a lot of their operators into production technicians.”

Edgewell manufactures and markets a range of personal care products in the wet shave, skin care, feminine care and infant care categories with brand names such as Schick and Wilkinson Sword men’s and women’s shaving systems and disposable razors, Playtex, Stayfree, Banana Boat, and Hawaiian Tropic sun care products, and more in their facility in Dover.

Massotti said that perhaps the greatest strength of the lab and the training devices within it is being able to assess students’ and employees’ current skill level with automation equipment, hone in on weaknesses and train users up to a certain standard quickly.

Mr. Scuse highlighted the necessity of the program in a brief speech he gave during lunch.

“It’s not like years ago when anyone can go out with a hammer, pair of pliers and a cotter key to fix a piece of machinery,” said Mr. Scuse. “We need to have a workforce that can do the things that manufacturing today requires of them.”

Echoing the sentiment, Mr. Coons said that in a meeting with ILC Dover, a designer and producer of high-performance flexible materials, company leaders were far more interested in high schools turning out a qualified workforce than they were in subsidies aimed at covering in-house training costs.

“They just said, send us qualified employees. We will train them and pay them good wages,” said Mr. Coons. “On the specifics of how to run a PLC system, if you don’t show up on the job with those skills already, you’re employable but a company may spend six months to a year trying to train you.”

According to a news release, from 2009-2015, the USDA has invested nearly $3.9 billion in Delaware to create new opportunities for those living and working in rural communities across the state.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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