Orange County Partnership - News

College, company unite for training

By James Walsh
Times Herald-Record

TOWN OF WALLKILL — Susan Syme represents a new breed of employee at President Container.

She's among a dozen new hires to take classes the company established with SUNY Orange to prepare prospective employees for work at the plant.

Syme, of Milford, Pa., considers herself competent in math, but still learned a few things. She finished the classes May 1 and went to work shortly afterward.

“The teacher was excellent, took a lot of time and explained everything,” Syme said last week. The math classes covered decimals, fractions and problem-solving strategies.

She was particularly pleased that classes were held in a training room right in the factory, which produces corrugated shipping containers.
“They showed us everything,” Syme said. “And they stressed safety. Your eyes, fingers and toes depend on it.”

A bonus, she said, was the camaraderie she developed with her soon-to-be co-workers.

Good for the company
The partnership between President Container and SUNY Orange came as state and federal governments emphasize improved connections between the classroom and workplace to meet employers' needs.

The impetus in President Container's case was a difficulty in finding workers with basic math and workplace skills, said Richard Goldberg, vice president of operations.

But the arrangement provided ancillary benefits, such as insight into candidates' work habits.

“One of our biggest challenges is attendance,” Goldberg said. “We got to see that the people were coming to the classes every day. It showed a commitment.”

Students paid SUNY Orange $12 each for 40 hours of classes over eight weeks.
The college has since determined that 20 hours will suffice. So future classes – three sessions are planned – will follow the reduced schedule.

“There was nothing less than 95 percent at the final exam,” Goldberg said.
Twelve of 15 students completed the program.

“It turned out great,” Goldberg said. “In fact, better than great, and now it's essentially taking on a life.”

Human resources manager Hope Godchaus emphasized workplace skills, including reliability and teamwork, during discussions with the candidates.

Each was interviewed and required to produce a resume and cover letter explaining why they should work for the company.

Dressing properly for the interview, coming to work on time and dealing with problems on the job were some topics Godchaus addressed.

Workers needed
The Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that the shortage of skilled workers is so severe that it leaves 600,000 jobs unfilled.

President Container's experience could lead to similar classes for other companies, said David Kohn, SUNY Orange's director of Continuing and Professional Education.

“This is a perfect example of an employer identifying a specific need,” Kohn said.
SUNY Orange also holds English as a Second Language classes and a basic computer skills class for employees of Cafe Spice in New Windsor.

“The greatest priority, the greatest needs were for basic skills in math and work readiness,” Kohn said, citing information the college gleaned last year from several forums with manufacturers.

Syme, who was laid off in September from a quality control job when her employer's ownership changed, said she's happy to work for $12 an hour and the promise of a raise after 18 weeks.

“It's stressful looking for a job and having the uncertainty of where your life is going,” she said. “I'd rather be working than collecting unemployment.”