- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - A state-funded welder training program is starting to bear fruit for Lippert Components and Elkhart County’s growing recreational vehicle industry, which is needy for skilled workers.

The first class of students graduated in September from the 12-week paid training program at Lippert Components’ Plant 19 in Goshen, and all five of them were hired by Lippert. More classes will follow, providing trained welders for the supplier of RV parts to scoop up. Lippert needs more welders to keep up with the demand for RV frames.

The 18-month program, launched earlier this year, is mostly funded by an $883,400 grant from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s Skill UP Indiana program. To be eligible for the grant, a $364,000 private investment was made by Lippert and other companies in the RV industry.

Students are paid $13 per hour during the program, which is being run by Vincennes University at the Lippert plant. Courses start every four weeks and will run until the end of next year.

Those who graduate from the program, which includes classroom and hands-on training, will earn an advanced welding certificate and credits from the university toward an associate degree in welding. They will be offered jobs by Lippert when they graduate. The program is administered by the MBC Group, a staffing services firm in Goshen.

Nick Fletcher, ?chief human resources officer for Lippert, said the company hopes to hire about 100 welders through the program across five chassis building facilities in Elkhart County.

“We continue to have strong business demand and need welders at those facilities,” he said on Monday, adding that more skilled workers will benefit the county’s RV industry as a whole. “I think all of us would like to see skill upgrades because it benefits the whole workforce.”

RV companies across Elkhart County, meanwhile, have found it difficult to find skilled workers. A training program for entry-level RV workers launched last year at Ivy Tech Community College’s Elkhart County campus in Goshen, for example, was scrapped because it didn’t yield enough students for RV companies to justify the cost.

Cole Warner, program coordinator for Vincennes University, said welders at Lippert are currently putting in overtime to keep up with the workload. “This program will help ease some of the tension and help them get through the busy period,” he said.

The program begins in the classroom, where Warner teaches students basic welding principles for four weeks. Then, staff from Lippert teach students how to build frames for four weeks. During the final four weeks, students work on the production floor alongside Lippert employees.

“We cut them lose with the guys on the line to learn tips and tricks they need on the job,” Warner said, adding that welders start out making $15 to $17 at Lippert.

RV manufacturers, meanwhile, will benefit also from the program because they rely on Lippert’s skilled workers to build RV frames, he said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2d6Lkfe

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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