Companies and schools team up to advance the composites industry.

One of David Giovannini’s top priorities when he joined Molded Fiber Glass (MFG) South Dakota in 2007 as general manager was to upgrade the company’s workplace training. “When I arrived we had a 4-hour training program for new employees, then we put people out in the plant,” says Giovannini. “It was sink or swim time.”

The training, which included filling out paperwork for the human resources department and learning a bit about the company’s culture and products, was simply not enough. Consequently, MFG South Dakota experienced quality problems and double-digit employee turnover.

During a training session, Jeremy Swan (left) and Matt Aaron of Miles Fiberglass & Composites prepare to infuse a sample portion of a mock blade.

During a training session, Jeremy Swan (left) and Matt Aaron of Miles Fiberglass & Composites prepare to infuse a sample portion of a mock blade.

Giovannini turned to Laura Miller for assistance. Miller, an instructor at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock, Ark., had helped Giovannini develop a detailed training program for his former employer, a start-up wind blade manufacturer that closed during the recession. He realized there—and at MFG South Dakota—that robust workplace training is critical. “Bringing in new technology requires a much more detailed training program than you would normally need in a brownfield environment,” he says.

MFG South Dakota, a 300,000-square-foot greenfield plant with 350 employees in Aberdeen, S.D., produces wind blades. Serving as a consultant, Miller teamed with Giovannini and others at the company to create a 40-hour on-site training class. It includes a discussion on the company’s culture and four key elements at the plant—safety, quality, teamwork and lean manufacturing. Employees learn about the different processes conducted at MFG South Dakota, such as layup and vacuum infusion.

The course is taught by various senior employees, including Giovannini, a training coordinator and the lean coordinator. At the conclusion, new employees work alongside senior technicians in their team to complete hands-on training.

Since implementing the class last year, MFG South Dakota has witnessed significant improvements: Giovannini says turnover has dropped by approximately 60 percent, quality results are up 50 percent and employee overtime has decreased because the plant is more efficient.

Despite its success, the company continues to improve its training program under Miller’s guidance. MFG South Dakota is building a mini mold and adding education on layup, infusion, closing, trimming and final finish using blades made from the mini mold. “That will give new hires experience in every phase of the operation,” says Giovannini. The company also is developing a 13-part leadership training program for first-line supervisors and senior technicians.