Pictured left to right are REHAU Plant Manager Albert von Pelser, CCBOE Superintendent Shane Barnette, Nathan Hannah, Steven Ogle, WSCC President Dr. Vicki Karolewics and WSCC Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges. / W.C. Mann
CULLMAN – On Wednesday, representatives of the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) and Wallace State Community College (WSCC) were on hand as automotive parts manufacturer REHAU held a reception for, and officially welcomed, Nathan Hannah and Steven Ogle, the first graduates of the multi-agency joint venture Polymer Specialist Apprenticeship program. As The Tribune reported last week, Hannah and Ogle recently completed the program.
Wallace State offers the following description of the Polymer Specialist program:
“Wallace State, Cullman County Schools, and REHAU have collaborated to develop a premier short term certificate option for Cullman County students through the REHAU Academy. The goal of the program is to produce the best-trained, Polymer Specialists in the industry through a unique educational program in which multiple disciplines will be combined into a systems approach for troubleshooting and resolving problems in an automated manufacturing plant. The curriculum will provide students with knowledge and hands-on training in machining, electricity, pneumatics, PLC, robotics, injection molding, and automation. The program consists of five semesters of training in which coursework is mixed with paid on-the-job training in the REHAU manufacturing facility.”
Both students began the program during their senior years of high school, and completed an additional year at Wallace state after that, all the while receiving paid on-the-job training at REHAU, under the supervision of Sascha Janssen.
Speaking about the apprenticeship program, Janssen explained, “It’s very challenging, because we teach different than the common United States school system. (According to the German model), for every job, you need an apprenticeship.”
While the students completed academic requirements through the schools, they served as apprentices at REHAU, working side by side with instructors to get hands-on training and experience in the operation, maintenance and repair of the manufacturer’s injection molding machinery.
According to Plant Manager Albert von Pelser, both students officially went to work for REHAU on Aug. 15, and are the youngest machine operators at the plant (both are 19 years old). They will be employed as injection molding machine operators. They will also have the opportunity to progress within the company, as REHAU offers tuition assistance for such employees to continue their educations.
Charles Hannah, father of Nathan Hannah, talked about his son’s experience in the program:
“It was a perfect fit for him. It challenged him a little bit, and caused him to think outside the box and see the value in becoming part of something that’s bigger than him, and being a part of that, seeing the importance of staying with a job, of getting in something and staying with it. That’s what I’ve always tried to push him to.
“From my experience, opportunities don’t always come knocking at your door. You have to go make those opportunities. So it’s been a very good program for him.”
CCBOE Superintendent Shane Barnette told the two former apprentices, now officially polymer specialists, “We’re looking forward to you guys being our ambassadors for this program, as people behind you are looking for leadership from you guys to see how to master this, and how to go on and be successful.”
WSCC President Dr. Vicki Karolewics told them, “Congratulations, young men. You’ve accomplished something that very few people in high school and community college are able to do, so my hat’s off to both of you, and I congratulate you on a very important step to a very bright future in a career you have chosen for yourself at this stage in your life. It’s just amazing; I’m very in awe of you.”
Both Karolewics and Barnette lauded REHAU executives for their vision and role in creating this program. Karolewics said, “I also want to commend REHAU. Albert (von Pelser) talked about, in 1998, having a conversation (about an apprenticeship program). I arrived here in 2003, and he was still having that conversation about education. That has been his platform for years. I understood, in 2003, the importance of partnership with REHAU, and how important what we do is to the vitality and prosperity of REHAU and, subsequently, our community.”
Janssen takes a lot of pride in the apprenticeship program, and encouraged students unsure about what to do after high school to look into what REHAU has to offer.
He shared, “A lot of people would say, ‘Oh, you need a four-year degree.’ It’s not true. It’s my personal opinion: you can have a good work position with a two-year degree. So, if they want to do something different, and want to be part of a big family, join the family!”
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