On September 26, 2019, NC Commerce issued a WARN notice that Continental Automotive Systems, Inc., Henderson County plant, would permanently close on or around December of 2022. This was disappointing news for the 650 employees of a company that had been an economic driver in the region since 1997.
The company’s executive team met with NC Commerce and the local area’s Rapid Response Team on January 31, 2020 to discuss the path forward. Both the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, Division of Workforce Solutions, and Blue Ridge Community College were present. One outcome of the meeting was to provide short-term training to the dislocated workers to better prepare them for future jobs. The workforce board committed NDWG and contingency dollars to fund short-term training for both full time and temporary dislocated workers. This strategy would assist with retention of employees until closure and would upgrade the skills of those who chose to take advantage of the opportunity. An interest form was developed and distributed through the plant’s HR office.
Interest in training began in July 2020 and continues today. Five employees have been trained in areas including: Kuka Sim V3 software, Windchill product lifecycle management software (PLM), ASQ’s Quality Engineering Certification and Six Sigma Green Belt Certification. All training was available on-line which worked well with work schedules and COVID-19 restrictions. Sascha Krumbach, completed Kuka robotics training. As he explained, “I can now rule out tooling interferences, design flaws and possible crashes in the virtual world without needing equipment. Production can continue as I prepare changes. This saves the company money.” Daniel Fink, PLM certified, says, “The training has helped me reduce redundancy, improve workflow and create team collaboration on product design and production related topics. Windchill will help me interface with other colleagues in different disciplines to help the company make quick and accurate decisions.“ Both trainees agreed that the training will enhance future employment opportunities.
Discussions are underway for both Blue Ridge Community College and A-B Tech to potentially offer Production Technician Training and Certification to Continental’s dislocated workers in the future. The Workforce Board will request additional funds to support this training. The colleges may offer day or night classes to accommodate more workers. The Production Technician Training and Certification was developed by the Manufacturing Skills Standard Council (MSSC) and is the preferred credential for front-line manufacturing technicians. The credential is nationally accredited and federally recognized. Both community colleges offer the training and certification exam. Providing this training will help provide local manufacturers with a pipeline of individuals with the core competencies of a highly skilled technician upon Continental’s closure.
Losing a major manufacturer is very difficult for the employees, the employer, and the community but the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, the local community colleges, and NCWorks are working to mitigate the impact by continuing to develop Continental’s workforce for future jobs. Joshua Polk, Senior Human Resources Manager, Henderson facility, states, “We are taking advantage of this time to help develop our employees. We want to help them earn an even better job in the future, whether that is at another Continental facility or outside the organization.”
Barbara Darby, Regional Business Services Coordinator, Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, is managing the training project and can be reached at email@example.com or 828-231-6611.