First Solar, Owens partner on work force trainingWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
First Solar is partnering with Owens Community College to begin a new training program April 27 for nearly 450 employees at its Perrysburg plant over the next year.
First Solar received a $1 million grant through Ohio’s Energizing Careers Grant program for alternative energy companies in September of 2010. The Workforce and Community Services staff at Owens assisted the company on its application for the grant and helped to develop and implement the training program.
“Since September, we’ve been designing and planning the program with the first course in continuous improvement and empowered career development,” said Eric Levos, training manager for North America at First Solar.
The training programs must include continuous improvement, supervisory leadership and technical skills development to qualify for the state grant, he said.
“One of First Solar’s core values is ‘continuous improvement’ along with a key behavior of self-awareness and learning,” said Todd Spangler, plant manager in Perrysburg.
“The continuous improvement workshop is a great tool to allow our production team to develop in these areas. Associate development opportunities such as this help First Solar to build a team capable of enabling a world powered by clean, affordable solar electricity,” he said.
The one-day workshop focuses on continuous improvement and empowered career development. The first workshops of 20 associates each were conducted April 27 and 28 to begin the process of training 400 production operators and about 40 people from finance, human resources, supply chain, and environmental health and safety areas.
Continuous improvement introduces associates to the origins of the subject with an application-based, systems-thinking stimulation with a primary measurement using statistical process control. It includes an exercise to build a simulated production line with Legos to understand how the entire system as a whole operates.
“The hands-on exercise prepares them to think about how their work affects the whole production system. We want our people to understand systems thinking. It supports one of our core behaviors to think globally,” Levos said.
Empowered career development focuses on options for associates to strengthen their knowledge in their current position or strategies for taking control of their career and qualify for another position.
“We want to retain our associates and help them to advance and embrace life’s learning experiences. We encourage associates to take control of their career. We don’t want them to just have a job. We want them to have a career,” Levos said.
First Solar associates with at least six months of service qualify for up to $5,250 in tuition assistance per year for external education. They are encouraged to take courses and earn degrees at Owens or other colleges and universities, Levos said.
“First Solar has prided itself to grow its associates’ knowledge, skills and abilities faster than it is building its business by taking advantage of internal and external educational programs,” he said.
The training staff at First Solar has been working to train facilitators provided by Owens to educate its associates. Owens provides trainers for the customized training from more than 200 educators, administrators, and independent consultants all with business experience in addition to an educational background.
“We’ll find the right talent for the training desired by each client,” said Carl Dettmer, director of program development for Workforce and Community Services at Owens.
“We’ve taken it to a new level working with First Solar to make the community stronger through work force training.”
First Solar is the largest manufacturer of thin film solar modules, having expanded its manufacturing capacity to an annualized run rate of 62.6 MW per line in the fourth quarter of 2010. The company reports that it will reach a total expected capacity of more than 2.3 GW by the end of 2011.