Support boosts plastics education at Penn College

A $250,000 donation from Shell Polymers will enhance Pennsylvania College of Technology’s efforts to produce highly skilled graduates for the plastics industry while helping to ease the growing skills gap in plastics manufacturing.

Funding will enable Penn College, which operates the Plastics Innovation & Resource Center (PIRC) to assist plastics companies with research and development and training of incumbent workers — to enhance and upgrade the academic and research lab, now known as the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence.

“The enhancement of this lab demonstrates Shell’s commitment to hands-on technology education by helping us maximize student learning using the most current technologies, and to provide training and research-and-development assistance to rotational molding companies,” said Elizabeth A. Biddle, director of corporate relations at Penn College.

Skilled manufacturing professionals are in high demand. A growing number of retirements — and fewer qualified workers to replace the retirees — is an ongoing concern for American manufacturing. It’s expected that 3.5 million manufacturing job openings over the next decade will have only 2 million trained/qualified workers available to fill them, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

The plastics industry requires a mix of skilled professionals with college degrees and process technicians with manufacturing skills — acquired through training and less through formal plastics education — to mitigate its manufacturing gap.

Penn College addresses these needs through its academic offerings — a bachelor degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology and an associate degree in plastics and polymer technology — and training to incumbent workers through the PIRC.

The college hopes to play a role in providing skilled employees for Shell Chemical Appalachia’s petrochemical (“ethane cracker”) complex under construction in Potter Township. The facility will employ 600 workers to produce ethylene, used in products ranging from food packaging to automotive parts.

The crucial rotational molding industry produces items that are too thick for injection or blow molding processes. Penn College intends to grow its plastics program by providing the education and training opportunities to students and incumbent workers.

In three years, the college anticipates 150 students will receive hands-on training on the new rotational molder, and 100 incumbent workers are expected to participate in hands-on seminars at the PIRC, where 45 research-and-development projects will be completed for plastics firms over the same period.