SHERBROOKE, Quebec—Elastomer Valley, a group of Quebec rubber industry companies joined together for development projects, is continuing to support the industry by building up its training program and laying the foundation for a new research and development facility.
The training program—officially known as Centre integre de formation industrielle (CIFI)—began as a high school vocational program, but became a standalone school in 2006 at a cost of $6.5 million, when there was a lack of trained labor in the market, according to Elastomer Valley Director Claude Harvey. The group partnered with the Ministry of Education and EV members to bring in expertise and equipment for training, including an extrusion line, molding presses and a small laboratory.
"Now there's a 12-month course where people can learn the basics of rubber mixing, calendering, extrusion," Harvey said.
CIFI, a trade school based in Magog aimed at students coming out of high school, gives students a base level of working in the rubber industry, and helps avoid the establishment of bad habits in practice, Harvey said. Though the companies sometimes compete, there's always demand for well-trained operators.
"In our group, there are some competitors, but they join together because they need people to replace their operators, because they're growing or because of retirement or any other reason," Harvey said. "Using the school is a way to solve a common problem they have."
When CIFI started, EV companies weren't certain how the program would pan out, because they couldn't offer the promise of a job at the end of the 18-month course, Harvey said. But as those graduates moved into the industry, demand increased for the educated operators.
"Not a lot of people want to work in manufacturing anymore. It's hard to attract that type of person," said Mary-Ann McCarron, sales and product development manager for Soucy Techno Inc. "I can say we see a difference between who we get from the school. They have better knowledge, they have had better training."
CIFI currently brings in about 20 new students each year. The courses run for about 12 months, followed by another six months of internship work. Looking to the future, Harvey would like to see that ratio move closer to 50/50.
"We're asking 'How can we get the teachers to go to the different companies and evaluate the students more while they're working?' The industry is really crying for new people," he said.
Another 100 to 150 employees from either within the rubber industry or other sectors take courses to improve their skills, according to Harvey.
CIFI also offers a range of open online courses, in which instructors are able to do online training with different workers from different companies at the same time.
The school is supported through the Ministry of Education, and its instructors have university degrees, as well as a background in the rubber industry, Harvey said.
"They're training people for production," he said. "The main point is their expertise in the rubber industry."
CIFI has about eight different courses, including raw materials, rubber testing, rubber mixing, extrusion, calendering and customer service, as well as others. A sales course was developed to train industry sales representatives on the best ways to interact with customers in the industry, and on how to be knowledgeable about the products and processes.
A challenge for the school and the larger industry isn't helping students graduate or even finding jobs for graduates at the end, but bringing in new students to be trained, Harvey said.
"The young people are more interested in aeronautic, and robotic and all of that. We have to show them that our industry is also evolving and getting more into technical work and automation," Harvey said. "We have to show them that our industry is not an old industry. It's being renewed every year with new projects and new products. Our problem is more attraction than finding jobs at the end."
R&D center next aim
Additionally, EV has another knowledge-based project ongoing: A research and development center that would be used to develop elastomers solutions for EV customers, Harvey said.