Across the U.S., composites manufacturers like Frontier Pro in Banning, Calif., are having a difficult time hiring qualified composites technicians to help meet demanding marketplace needs. The steady rise of composite products in markets like wind, industrial, automotive and marine have opened many new job opportunities that are proving challenging to fill.
One of the many ways that American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) members like Frontier Pro are alleviating the void in the workforce is by enrolling their employees in ACMA’s Composites Certified Technician (CCT) program to help educate their staff.“I can easily hire electrical technicians and mechanics off the street, but composites technicians are hard to find,” says Jack Wallace, wind turbine technical advisor at Frontier Pro. “Having a technical knowledge of composites is one of the most underrated and highly-sought skills for wind blade repair companies.”
One industry educational leader pushing the CCT program to the next level is ACMA academic member IYRS, a trade and technology school based in Rhode Island. The school established a composites training program in 2010 with the goal of producing skilled technicians provided with a wide range of career opportunities in six months using CCT curriculum and hands-on training.
Training programs like IYRS offer a solution for new employees interested in manufacturing composites and for employers that need immediate assistance. As a result, most IYRS graduates are hired within 30 days. “In order to meet the growing need for technicians, we designed our classes to accommodate a group of job seekers that may or may not have previous manufacturing experience,” says Clark Poston, director of student and industry relations at IYRS.
Poston has been with IYRS for over 15 years and has seen the school’s programs adapt to changing marine industry trends. In the midst of the recession, Poston realized that IYRS courses needed to follow the market trend to diversify and invested in the composites training program. Currently, the composites program is deliberately arranged to teach future technicians about applying composite technology to both marine and nonmarine markets.
“One of the major industry trends we noticed is boat builders adapting their product lines to include parts for new markets,” says Poston. “They’re transferring boat technology into wind blade or automotive parts. For example, I know a boat manufacturer in Bristol, R.I., now making musical instruments with composites, too.”
IYRS students work on a variety of projects to prepare them for a career in any composites market. Some of the program’s recent accomplishments including the completion of small hydrofoil sailboats, three-wheel recumbent bikes, Formula Hybrid race car parts in collaboration with Dartmouth engineering students, and an electrically powered car with the Rhode Island School of Design.
Poston recognizes that it can be difficult for potential students to make plans in the current marketplace, as it’s difficult to save the time and money needed to invest in composite education, but he believes a minimal investment could achieve outstanding rewards. “The biggest challenge for the composite industry is making the initial investment in education. Our students take six months away from the job market and salary in order to receive hands-on training, but they walk away with a certification and the ability to build parts, which is what the industry really needs,” says Poston.
Poston also believes that programs like CCT and IYRS will grow with time. “CCT curriculum already offers valuable information for technicians, and I believe the value of the program will only increase. We based the curriculum for our Marine Systems program on certification from the American Boat and Yacht Council, which is now a recognized program in the marine industry. The more it became accepted, the more significant it was that our program was using those standards,” says Poston.
“As long as we, the institution, and ACMA, the association, can stay current with new techniques and new challenges, then the program will always be relevant and valuable. The more the industry adopts the certifications that ACMA provides, and it becomes a good solid standard and tool to measure by, it will serve the entire composites industry well.”