PRCC to train workers for solar panel plant

January 7, 2011 - 8:02am -- braswell

With the help of Pearl River Community College, a California-based solar panel manufacturer will hire hundreds of employees for a new plant in Hattiesburg.Stion officials announced on Jan. 4 that the company will make 1 million solar panels annually after production begins later this year.But before the first panel is made, the company has to find and train employees.As Stion starts to ramp up and gets ready to interview people, theyll develop the job descriptions and post them at the WIN Job Center, said Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC director of workforce education. In conjunction with the WIN Job Center, well test these applicants to determine their skills.The PRCC staff at the Lowery A. Woodall Advanced Technology Center in Hattiesburg will administer a battery of three tests called the National Career Readiness Certificate. The tests measure an applicant skills at problem solving, critical thinking, using written, work-related text; applying information from workplace documents and mathematical reasoning to solve problems, performing work-related math calculations and understanding and using information in graphics.Stion can then use those scores to screen down the number of applicants, Alsobrooks said. The ball is then in their court to interview and pick the people they want.Once the company has hired employees, PRCC will help develop job-specific training.Pearl River Community College is where job training will be focused, Gov. Haley Barbour said at the Stion announcement.Putting together industry-specific training is a primary function of workforce education.We do it all the time, based on a particular employer needs, Alsobrooks said.Funding for PRCC work with Stion comes from the Workforce Enhancement Training Fund. The Legislature appropriates money for the Unemployment Security Trust Fund, and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security funnels the money to the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges. The board channels the money to the 15 community colleges based on current projects, Alsobrooks said.In the past several years, weve gotten anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million a year, he said. When youve got a big project like this, you can tap into this fund more.Stion plans to revamp the old Sunbeam plant in the Hattiesburg-Forrest County Industrial Park, creating a number of construction jobs, company officials said. Depending on the extent of the work there, Stion may locate some of its offices temporarily at PRCC.There potential that theyll use the business incubator in the Advanced Technology Center, Alsobrooks said.