Chemical operator program gets grant

A $100,000-plus grant is helping the Washington County Career Center enrich its popular chemical operator program.

Working with the Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District, the center applied for and received a $110,100 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to purchase new hands-on training equipment.

“Our chemical class is good, but we’re continually trying to make it better,” said Jim Siegfried, training coordinator for industrial programs with the career center’s Adult Technical Training arm.

The main item in the purchase is a distributive control systems simulator. While each plant will have its own specific system, the simulator will give students experience with the basic operations, Siegfried said.

“It’ll shorten the learning curve drastically,” he said.

Karl Boelter, plant manager for DuPont Washington Works, said distributive control technology is directly applicable to the company’s manufacturing process.

“The availability of this type of classroom training is important to future industrial growth in our region,” he said in an emailed statement.

Area chemical companies were involved in the selection of the equipment purchased.

In addition to the distributive control systems simulator, the career center is acquiring a distillation column and pump trainer to replicate other commonly used devices in most chemical plant environments, along with some lab equipment.

“The more times you can put your hands on it, the better prepared you’re going to be to do the work,” Siegfried said.

The new equipment will be in place by the time the center’s 12-week chemical operator and one-year chemical technician classes begin on Sept. 23.

Chemical operators have been in demand lately as many people filling those jobs at area plants approach retirement age. Siegfried said more than 100 hires, some of which have already been made, are expected locally this year, with starting salaries of $17 to $18 an hour or more.

The career center is pairing this grant funding with $125,000 from a $1.1 million federal grant to help offset companies’ expense for training new employees.

“Since March 2012 we have provided seven chemical companies with 50 contracts for new employees and committed $247,000 to the companies through the (federal) grant,” Siegfried said.

While the need is still there, the window won’t stay open this wide indefinitely, he said.

“I think in the next couple of years the demand won’t be as strong as it is now unless there are new plants or new lines added to the existing plants,” Siegfried said.

The career center is also developing an internship component to its chemical program. And Siegfried noted funding is available to help people in need with tuition.