Students recently saw how their classroom lessons translate into jobs at Eastman Chemical. Sixteen of the 21 students in the Advanced Film Certification Program toured the Eastman facilities in Fieldale on Friday. They saw the dye house, rewinding and other areas in the performance film manufacturing operation.
“There’s a lot more to it” than student Tyler Easter had expected, he said as the tour began. Easter, of Collinsville, said he previously was not aware that there so were many kinds of films and that materials were added to them for different purposes.
The center’s 28-credit Advanced Film Certification program is offered through Patrick Henry Community College. Students take classes at PHCC and the New College Institute; have hands-on internship opportunities; and have the promise of a job interview at Eastman. About 80 percent of the program’s curriculum is applicable to general industries in the area. The remaining 20 percent is tailored for the advanced film manufacturing industry, of which Eastman is a part. The Certification program is one of several training options offered within the Center.
Easter, a Bassett High School graduate, said he was encouraged to enter the Certification program by a friend who works at Commonwealth Laminating and Coating, which also is part of Eastman, in the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park. Easter is looking for a career field he can stay with for the foreseeable future. Friday’s tour helped him see the hands-on application of what he had learned in the classroom, he said. “I had a picture in my mind” of the processes, but he could see them at work in the Eastman operation.
All of the students interviewed after Friday’s tour said they could envision themselves working at Eastman. Like Easter, they cited the potential for advancement in jobs with a stable local company. Some, like Easter, are just starting their careers. One of them is Isaac Hairston, 20, a Bassett High School graduate. His father has worked at what now is Eastman for 15 years and his stepmother has worked there for 17 years, so he said he knew what to expect from the Certification program and Friday’s tour.
Hairston said he liked science studies in school, which should be helpful in the performance film industry, as well as the program’s promise of a paid internship and job interview. “A lot (of companies) don’t do that,” he added.
Shateria Massey of Ridgeway entered the Certification program to find opportunities for the future, she said. She has worked in the kitchen at Golden Living Center in Martinsville for the past six months and also has worked at call centers. But she said she likes advanced manufacturing as well as working with a team and the chance to grow in a job. “I’ve learned a lot” in this program and would recommend it to others, she added.
Other students in the program are looking for new careers. Lee Crews of Martinsville previously worked in the furniture industry, including 12 years making custom cabinets. As that industry shrank locally, he said he was advised to start his own business, but that was too expensive. Now, Crews said, “I don’t want a job; I want a career. … I need some place stable. At Eastman, “the fact that safety is No. 1 (priority) tells you something right there,” he added. At age 42, Crews acknowledged that he is the “old man” in the group, but said that has not been a problem and classes have been fun.
Melissa Massie of Martinsville and Linda Greer of Bassett also are pleased with the Certification program. Massie said the testing sometimes is challenging, but Greer added that instructors take time to explain things well. “I can’t wait to finish,” Greer said, adding that she entered the program because she likes manufacturing. Massie also has found manufacturing interesting after 30 years in the health care field, she said. Both she and Greer said they could see themselves working at Eastman some day.
Jason Jarrett, 28, of Bassett, also worked in health care in neurodiagnostics for six years. He commuted to Roanoke and was on-call at all hours, he said. While he liked the people he worked with and met on that job, he said he was looking for an opportunity to work in a field with stable hours close to home. He also likes the engineering aspect of the performance film manufacturing program and is taking more engineering courses at PHCC. This program is a wonderful opportunity,” Jarrett said. With Friday’s tour, “It’s exciting to put what we’ve learned in the classroom into action.”
The Advanced Film Certification Program is the primary program within the Center, and was developed by Eastman, Commonwealth Laminating, PHCC, NCI and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. This is the second year of the program, with a 92% job placement rate with the first year students. The current cohort of students began in August and will conclude with internships next summer. A new session will begin in January at PHCC, with open registration there on January 6th – 8th , from 8 – 5 in Frith Hall.