Community colleges often serve a unique role in their communities by offering specific job training for nearby industries hoping to beef up their workforces. The latest addition to Chattanooga State Community College follows in those footsteps, offering first-class job training for a plant that is not even scheduled to open in the area until later next year. How do the soon-to-be new industrial neighbors from Germany know Chattanooga State will be able to meet their employment needs? They had a direct hand in creating the institute that will train up their first generation of American employees.
The Wacker Corporation
Wacker Chemical Corporation is a German-based conglomerate that manufactures hyperpure polysilicon that is used to convert sunlight into energy. The company is currently building a new plant in Bradley County – its first on American soil. However, before that plant can celebrate its grand opening late in 2013, it must find approximately 650 highly skilled workers to man the plant floor. That is where the Wacker Institute comes in to help.
Through a cooperative effort between Chattanooga State Community College and Wacker Chemie, the Wacker Institute has been born. According to a press release at Market Watch, this $5 million pilot plant will become a part of the engineering technology division at Chattanooga State. The plant will serve as the training facility for the hundreds of skilled workers that will be needed at the Wacker plant next year. To ensure the training is specifically geared to Wacker needs, the company has been instrumental in designing the facility and curriculum with Chattanooga State faculty and administration.
“At the Wacker Institute, students will be equipped with the skills necessary for a successful career in one of the world’s most exciting and important industries,” Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, vice president and site manager for the Tennessee plant, stated in the Market Watch press release. “Our excellence in polysilicon technology is deeply rooted, based on over half a century of experience on this front. The Wacker Institute will provide to us a pipeline of highly skilled workers who will serve Wacker and our customers well for many years to come.”
This video offers a look at the Wacker Institute at Chatanooga State University.
Big Response to New Training Institute
The company and school providing the new Wacker Institute did not have to worry about filling up their first class of students. According to WRCB, the institute receiving around 4,500 applicants for their new training program.
“We were impressed by the people we got,” Dr. Ingomar Kovar, president and CEO of Wacker Chemical Corporation, told WRCB. “We didn’t expect it absolutely before, but we were optimistic. That’s why we came here.”
While students will be trained specifically for work in the Wacker plant, the skills they learn will be transferrable to other industries as well. With a well-rounded background in renewable energy, students will know they are effectively investing in their futures.
“The concept of the Wacker Institute is a pioneering and innovative learning experience that both Chattanooga State and Wacker jointly feel is consistent and symbolic of the principle of investing in a sustainable future,” Dr. Kovar stated in the press release. “While we might be hard-pressed to understand what the future may hold, it is always the present world in which we live where the future is created.”
The Transformation is Complete
The new Wacker Institute recently celebrated its grand opening, where guests could marvel at how far the building had come. The warehouse, which once housed the Olan Mills professional studio photo finishing company, was located directly next door to the Chattanooga State campus. Today, the warehouse is home to a $5 million facility that features classrooms and labs, as well as a training plant where 65 Wacker employees are currently learning how to distill ethanol, according to the Cleveland Banner.
“Today the former Olan Mills facility has been transformed into a unique, modern training facility with a one-of-a-kind training experience,” Dr. Kovar told the Banner. “Our aim is to prepare Chattanooga State Wacker Institute students for high tech jobs and for training the future workforce.”
Kovar said Wacker has been impressed with the high quality of students the institute has received thus far. The institute is in search of very specific qualifications, including a solid math and science background, a willingness to work as a member of a team, and a commitment to personal and environmental safety.
“Wacker Institute is a high priority for Wacker,” Dr. Kovar explained to the Banner. “If we are to compete and compete successfully in the global photovoltaic industry, which is one of the fastest-growing industries, we must have competent, well-trained and qualified people. These students are current and future employees who will be ready to go on Day 1 when the plant opens in late 2013.”
This video offers an overview of the Wacker Institute.
Students Heading to Germany
Currently, more than 100 students are involved in the training program at Wacker Institute. Out of that number, around 50 will soon be traveling to Germany to receive additional training right at the main polysilicon plant, according to News Channel 9.
“We’ll be training at their main plant over there for six months learning our specific jobs,” Aaron Franckhauser, an employee at the institute, told News Channel 9. “I’ll be working in infrastructure, so I’ll be learning my more specific job over there.”
Franckhauser said his work at Wacker Institute has been rewarding and promising thus far.
“It’s been a great experience,” Franckhauser said at News Channel 9. “I didn’t have a big chemical background, so this has really helped me out to learn different processes, not just in the classroom, but also in the lab.”
This partnership is an excellent example of the growing trend on community college campuses to train workers for very specific positions at local companies -- and it certainly does President Obama's recent State of the Union address justice.
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