Shining a light on training

Shell Solar utilizes grant to boost worker skills and company productivity

Clark College and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council teamed up this fall to deliver customized training to employees at the Vancouver division of Shell Solar Industries.

"This was developed as part of the corporate education efforts that we have been conducting," said Clark College Corporate Relations Manager Michelle Giovannozzi. "It is something we have always done, but we have renewed the focus on corporate education through the customized training department."

The council provided the $22,750 Local Demand Side Training grant administered by the state for incumbent worker training.

Shell Solar was required to match 60 percent of the funds with in-kind contributions. SWWDC Business and Industries Group Manager Jerry Petrick said Shell Solar more than matched the grant through wages paid to workers during the training.

Clark College and Shell Solar worked together to address the company’s training needs. There is no pre-packaged training.

"We look at where the skills gap is and work together for a collaborative solution to meet that skills gap," said Giovannozzi.

The Vancouver division of Shell Solar produces material to make solar energy panels and employs about 100 workers.

"We saw an opportunity to get some useful training customized to our needs, improve the quality of our workforce, our productivity and the overall quality of our production process," said Geoff Crabtree, operations manager for the company.

Crabtree said the company continually looks for ways to provide training for its employees.

"Training is just something that you always need," he said. "People can always do a better job, but, also, processes change, equipment gets more sophisticated, technology changes, and we have to do a certain amount of training to keep up with that."

Two areas of training were developed for the company. Industry specific instruction in the areas of mechanical, electrical and general processes was created, and workers are receiving communication and conflict resolution skills to improve the transition from one shift of workers to the next.

The industry-specific training was designed, developed and delivered onsite by a subject–matter expert brought in from outside the college. Giovannozzi said Clark has a portfolio of adjunct faculty and professional consultants it calls upon to provide these types of trainings. The training began in August and will conclude this month.

The shift-to-shift training was taught on-campus by college faculty in November and December.

Crabtree said the company has been pleased with the training.

"The people I have worked with have been extremely helpful and willing to work with us to change schedules and training formats," he said. "And they have been very accommodating and worked with us to define the necessary training."

Working with Shell Solar to provide training to its workers was an "investment decision," said Petrick. The training addresses a defined and explicit company need to be more competitive so they can keep jobs here and so they can grow their operations here as opposed to someplace else, he said.

"You get a better return on your economic investment dollars for the retention and expansion of an existing business than you do to try to court somebody to come here," said Petrick. "By taking care of the companies that are here, not only are you strengthening your existing base of companies, but that also becomes your most powerful recruitment tool."

Petrick would like to see more funds available for similar programs with local businesses, but he said there are not enough resources for incumbent worker training. Most state workforce development funds are targeted for new-hire or recruitment efforts.

"We find much more interest in utilizing resources than we have resources available," said Petrick.

As evidenced by Clark’s efforts of reinvesting in their customized training department, the college sees a need in the community they hope to meet.

Giovannozzi said the college is in the process of finalizing agreements to provide customized training for at least two other clients.

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