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Lehigh Valley program aims to teach potential workers about fundamentals of manufacturing

Employers will need to replace nearly 12,000 manufacturing workers during the next five years, according to a study commissioned for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

Additionally, seven out of 10 area employers anticipate hiring new workers in the near term.

A pilot program aims to replenish the anticipated shortage — by taking candidates into the classroom first.

“Companies are looking for somebody they can train, and finding that right person is a challenge,” said Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of Manufacturers Resource Center. “We’re trying to give them a pool of potential workers that hopefully will put them ahead.”

A “Fundamentals of Manufacturing Certification Program” will offer students 16 weeks of free classwork during the fall semester at Lehigh Carbon Community College, which is partnering with Manufacturers Resource Center and Workforce Board Lehigh Valley.

Thanks to a $135,000 state grant, students will receive training, with a chance at securing entry-level work with local manufacturers. Classes will be held either at LCCC’s Schnecksville campus or the MRC Training Center in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. The program also includes plant tours and meetings with hiring managers among 20 area manufacturers.

“The companies are hoping to hire them and help pay their way through more schooling,” Pfunder said. “That’s why a lot of companies are interested in this concept.”

College spokeswoman Linda Baker said students will receive a certificate for completing the program, which will be recognized by employers.

Freshpet, a pet food manufacturer with operations in Hanover Township, Northampton County, is one of the companies seeking workers now. Pfunder said Freshpet needs to fill between 100 and 200 jobs for an expansion. A telephone message left with a Freshpet representative was not returned.

The program will include online and skill-building activities aligned with manufacturers’ needs, according to organizers. Classroom topics are expected to include basic math and measuring, print reading and mechanical fabrication, as well as developing problem-solving skills.

Fundamentals of Manufacturing, which begins Sept. 6, is open to high school grads, holders of GED diplomas, or people looking to switch careers. Space is limited to 25 students. Deadline to apply is Aug. 15.

At $6.9 billion, manufacturing ranks second as of 2016 in the Valley’s Gross Domestic Product output among the top private sectors, according to the latest GDP report. It trails finance at $8 billion with two other segments — education and health care, and professional and business services — each coming in at $5.3 billion.

For more information, contact Tom Bux, workforce training director at Lehigh Carbon Community College, at tbux@lccc.edu or 610-799-1961; or Karen Buck, workforce initiatives manager at Manufacturers Resource Center at karen.buck@mrcpa.org or 610-628-4626.

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