In January, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced the expansion of the Valmiera Glass Group’s U.S. based headquarters in Dublin, Ga., creating 425 local jobs. Nearly seven months later, through a collaboration with Oconee Fall Line Technical College (OFTC) and several other community organizations, training for the company’s highly-skilled technical jobs is underway.
The Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority, in colaboration with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, played a major role in this community partnership in regards to recruiting and providing incentives for the company, including the facilitation of the relationship between OFTC and the Heart of Georgia Career Academy.
“The recruitment of P-D Valmiera Glass USA Corp. to Dublin-Laurens County would have not been possible without OFTC’s initiative to create this tailored program for the company”, said Roger Folsom, Chairman of the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority. “There are very few communities in the state that are taking the extra step in workforce development, and we are proud to partner with OFTC to create jobs and a better quality of life for our community.”
Valmiera Glass Group
The Latvian based glass fiber manufacturer came to Laurens County in July of 2014 to create their first U.S. based headquarters and manufacturing facility. With increased product demand, an expansion of the current facility was needed.
“The glass fiber industry and its related markets have developed increasingly fast over the last few years,” said Andre Schwiontek, head of Valmiera Glass Group and CEO of P-D Valmiera Glass USA Corp. "Demand for glass fiber products has increased, while the company’s productive capacity hardly outlasts the required amounts. The expansion in the U.S. is a solution to this problem.”
Having the technical skills needed for a training program like Valmiera’s, OFTC was recruited to play a role: “The College was asked by the management of P-D Valmiera Glass USA Corp. to facilitate the training and recruitment of approximately 400 employees needed for the startup of the new plant,” said Roy Williams, Dean of OFTC’s Trades, Industrial and Transportation Programs, who also serves as project manager for the Valmiera training program.
Due to the technical nature of jobs created by Valmiera’s expansion, candidates for employment will require customized training in a number of areas to prepare them for one of seven positions: Mechatronic Technician, Material Handler, Maintenance Technician, Water Supply Technician, Glass Fiber Production Operator, Chemical Process Operator, or Twisting Operator.
Training at OFTC
After making the decision to partner with Valmiera, OFTC President, Dr. Lloyd Horadan, assembled a team of college staff to lead the training program. “The entire project has been a complete team effort on behalf of the college,” Horadan said, “and I could not have asked for a better group of leaders to work with. I am extremely proud of the work they have done to make this project such a success for all those involved.”
Filtering to OFTC through the college’s Department of Economic Development and Business and Industry divisions, this customized training project involves the college in its
entirety. “This is a great example of how the Business and Industry office and academic units work directly with business and industry to identify their workforce training needs and implement training to address their needs,” said Kimberly David, VP for Economic Development at OFTC.
With a robust Trades and Industry department that’s staffed with instructors who have countless years of industry experience, “we were able to draw on the competencies already in place within the college’s T&I programs,” Williams said. “Kevin Livingston (Air Conditioning Instructor), Lee Radney (Electronics Technology Instructor), Mark Customized training is required for the positions with Valmiera due to the technical nature of job duties within the plant.
Stewart (Industrial Systems Instructor) and Coy Horton (Industrial Mechanical Instructor) have put an enormous amount of work into this project, on top of their current instructor responsibilities. Dale Anderson and Michelle Simpson have also played tremendous roles in keeping us all organized.”
With a goal in place to have a workforce trained, ready, and in sufficient number to make a smooth start-up for Valmiera, OFTC’s team immediately began strategizing the development and implementation of the training program, which included a trip to Latvia to observe the production process at the home plant.
“We looked at existing curriculum and began to edit until we reached a combination of information that met the specific needs of the training,” Williams said. Radney added that the most vital part of the curriculum development was seeing the facility in Latvia: “The ability to see their operation firsthand and to have dialog with the employees was invaluable.”
While the college made strides in the development of training curriculum, Job Training Unlimited (JTU) partnered with OFTC’s Department of Economic Development to oversee the recruiting, testing and enrolling of potential employees and the fiscal aspects of the training.
“JTU’s partnership in this training project has been invaluable to OFTC,” David added. “Their staff has worked hand in hand with OFTC to develop and execute the application intake and verification process, and they have also administered the assessment and testing phase for each applicant to the training program. By setting up an office site on OFTC’s campus and sending dedicated staff each week to Dublin, JTU has played an integral role and we could not have asked for better partners. They have been invaluable to this process.”
With seven different job categories needed to bring the Valmiera plant online in fall of 2017, the timing and delivery of the training would play an important role: “The training is delivered in modules,” Williams shared. “Everyone in a cohort receives the same information in the same sequence and at the same time. The students are tested frequently and must all complete the modules simultaneously and progress at the same rate.”
Instruction based classes are held on OFTC’s campus while on-the-job training will happen in a 10,000 square foot training center housed in the Heart of Georgia College and Career Academy. This one-million-dollar investment by Valmiera Glass USA will provide workers with high-skilled, state-of-the-art training, allowing them to experience a small scale version of what will happen on the production floor in the actual Valmiera facility.
The first training session started in September and the remaining sessions will be on a graduated timeline. “The start dates for each separate class is graduated according to the time needed to deliver the training, the longest being 12 months and the shortest being three months,” Williams said.
While the Valmiera training program has certainly impacted the OFTC, their desire is that it will give the community hope for the future. “For years the average citizen has watched our manufacturing jobs go off shore,” Williams said. “In our area we have seen several companies move back from out of the U.S. The majority of these jobs require some type of technical training and this project shows the community that OFTC is ready, willing, and able to provide these training opportunities for individuals who otherwise may not have the chance.”
And while the college’s mission is to aid in the development of a local workforce to support existing industry, the community’s response is evidence of their success; “It has been overwhelming,” Williams said.
P-D Valmiera Glass USA Corp. is still accepting applications for the remaining job categories. For more information about the training program visit www.OFTC.edu or contact the Valmiera Project Office at OFTC by phone at 478-274-7646 or 478-274-7800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, drop by the Valmiera Project Office in the Porter Center on OFTC’s South Campus, Room 607, Monday-Thursday 9:00 AM-4:00 PM, Friday 9:00 AM-12:00 PM.