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ReadySC helps recruit, train workers for tire makers

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By Chuck Crumbo

Published Aug. 21, 2013

At Central Carolina Technical College, future employees of Continental Tire the Americas’ new Sumter plant are learning the ins and outs of inspecting tires.

The job prospects are assigned to a training bay that recreates what the factory’s inspection area, complete with racks, manual turntables and iPads.

DSC_0876The program is just part of the effort launched by Continental, the tech school and readySC – South Carolina’s workforce development program – to train many of the company’s future manufacturing employees.

So far, Fort Mill-based Continental has hired 150 production and maintenance employees who’ve gone through readySC training, said David Ray, manager of the Sumter plant’s human resources department.

That means 60% of Conti’s current workforce of 250 has received pre- and post-hire training through readySC, the company said.

“Continental’s partnership with readySC has been crucial to our success in hiring and training qualified, local job candidates who can meet the needs of our manufacturing process,” Ray said.

By the time Continental begins making tires early next year at the new 1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility along U.S. 521 on the southeast side of Sumter, the company plans to have 400 workers on board.

Eventually, the first phase of the $500 million project is expected to reach its production capacity of 5 million tires per year by 2017. A second phase is projected to increase the capacity to 8 million units per year by 2021. State officials said plant will create 1,600 jobs.

8.19.13 COLA_COVERAs part of the training effort, Central Carolina Tech is in the final phase of planning for the renovation of a former Wal-Mart store in Sumter. It will be used as an industrial training center.

The first phase of the project requires the renovation of 54,000 square feet of the 104,000-square-foot building.

About half of the renovated space will be used to train applicants and employees at Continental’s plant, according to the tech college.

The other half of the renovated facility will house the tech college’s Basic & Advanced Mechatronics/Industrial Maintenance Credit programs. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary engineer training program.

The facility’s program space will include industrial training labs, classrooms, meeting rooms, computer labs, offices, a student library and student lounge.

Preconstruction services are expected to begin in September and work is scheduled to be completed in July 2014 with the building to be occupied the following month.

The renovation project is expected to cost between $7 million and $9 million.

As economic development announcements continue to flow from the S.C. Commerce Department, the workload at readySC grows.

For the 2012-13 fiscal year, readySC trained 4,678 workers and has nearly 90 projects underway.

DSC_0916Since 1961, when the program was launched, readySC has trained 275,952 workers who’ve landed jobs at 2,076 companies.

ReadySC has been particularly busy training future workers for the tire industry in South Carolina, which announced more than $2.2 billion of investments since the fall of 2011.

Besides Continental, readySC is providing recruiting and training assistance for Bridgestone and Michelin.

Bridgestone, which is investing $1.2 billion in its Aiken County operation, plans to add 850 workers to the payroll once expansion of the existing passenger tire plant is in full production mode.

The additional workers also will be needed to make giant off-road radial tires that will be produced in a new 1.5-million-square-foot facility nearing completion.

Michelin, which has its North America headquarters in Greenville, is adding 100 jobs in the expansion of a rubber-processing plant in Anderson County.

It also plans to add another 500 positions at a new earthmover tire facility that’s under construction in Anderson, and expansion of the company’s existing off-the-road tire plant in Lexington County.

Once the new and expanded manufacturing facilities are in full production, South Carolina will be No. 1 tire-making state in the country, blowing past Oklahoma.

At the Sumter training facility, Continental trainees learn about tire manufacturing and develop an appreciation for the company’s safety culture.

During a recent training session, the trainees use iPads that are connected via Bluetooth to a bar code scanner. Trainees enter barcodes into a specially designed software application. The iPads are connected via Bluetooth and deliver immediate feedback to the trainees on how they’re doing.

Steps trainees learned in inspecting tires included:

  • How to pick a tire from an incoming tire rack;
  • Placing it on a manual turntable;
  • Reading barcodes;
  • Inspecting for anomalies;
  • Recording the anomaly and either accept or reject the tire;
  • Placing the tire on an outgoing rack.

Trainees participated in two 50-minute practice sessions with instructors, and then a 20-minute test session at the end of training.

After the test was completed, performance data was exported and provided to the company.

The interactive exercise offers candidates a chance to apply what they learn and at the same time use the iPad technology.

Jobs that Continental has already filled include production operators and technicians, quality inspectors, and industrial maintenance technicians, Ray said.

Production operators, the company’s largest hiring group, must have a high school diploma or GED and at least one year of manufacturing experience, Ray said.

The second-largest hiring group, industrial maintenance technicians, must have:

  • An associate degree in electrical, mechanical or industrial maintenance or a high school diploma/GED with completion of a craft apprenticeship or equivalent experience;
  • A minimum of 1 year of industrial maintenance experience or equivalent (4 or more years is preferred);
  • A strong background in programmable logic controllers or PLCs, along with hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, and electrical experience in a manufacturing environment. (PLCs are digital computers used for automatic and electromechanical processes.)

The Continental training program also includes a readySC micro website that provides information about job openings and training available. The site has been integral to the success of the company’s recruiting, a readySC spokeswoman said.

Continental and readySC are working with nearby technical colleges “to address the need for continual local workforce development,” Ray said.

Workforce development programs would include developing apprenticeships for industrial maintenance technicians, Ray added.

ReadySC already has more than 560 registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina with some 4,400 participants.

The apprenticeship program, along with recruiting and training efforts through readySC is helping Continental in developing a strong presence in the state’s labor market.

“More than 90% of our production and maintenance employees are local to Sumter and surrounding counties, and we are very proud of that,” Ray said.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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