Rochester heralded as 'world leader' in composites training

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N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu shakes hands with Safran's Sean Hoeing after reading a proclamation in praise of an effort to ensure a stable workforce at the company's Rochester factory. Looking on is Safran employee Jim Sinclair. (Rochester Voice photos)

ROCHESTER - Just as Detroit is the hub of America's automotive industry and Hollywood's the hub of filmmaking, Rochester can now takes its mantle as the worldwide hub in the training of composites used heavily at local aerospace giants Safran Aerospace and Albany Engineering.

To celebrate the achievement New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu read an official state proclamation on Wednesday celebrating the unique collaboration between Safran and Albany, the city of Rochester and Great Bay College's Advanced Technology & Academic Center where training for jobs at the two factories occurs.

Debra Mattson, the college's ATAC director, explains what composites are during a breakfast meeting with the Governor's Executive Council on Wednesday at Great Bay College's ATAC facility in the Lilac Mall.

Sununu heaped praise on the innovation of a program spearheaded by Debra Mattson, the college's ATAC director, who helped fashion an education model that would train students in the highly technical field of composites in just six months.

Mattson said the cornerstone of the training was the ability to get the machines students would be working on at Safran or Albany on the Milton Road campus, a sprawling 30,000 square foot space that is now honeycombed with small training rooms, classrooms and lecture halls.

"Here they get to use the equipment they'll be operating at Safran or Albany," said Mattson.

Mattson said the first group of 18 students graduated in 2014 and the program has grown ever since. In all, 125 have graduated, 36 of whom are confirmed to be employed by Safran, which pays $15 and up to start with shift differentials, overtime and generous benefits.

Other companies that use composites include Turbocam, BAE Systems, East Coast Metrology, Hichiner and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Jim Sinclair of Dover talks about his job at Safran and how the company has allowed him to make good money and graduate with his associate's degree with no student debt.

Sean Hoeing, Human Resource Manager at Safran, said the program at ATAC is crucial to supplying skilled workers his company desperately needs.

"We need 50 employees right now," Hoeing said. "We have planes waiting for delivery but they need engines, and we need workers to make them."

Hoeing introduced James Sinclair of Dover who graduated from Dover High in 2014 and now works for Safran as an example of a real life success story.

Sinclair works 40-60 hours a week, he said, and through tuition credits with the company has gotten his associate's degree without ever taking out a student loan. He plans to further his education with backing from Safran.

Hoeing said they're also seeking to attract 60-year-olds to come work at Safran as they seek to widen their potential employee base, even including part timers in the mix.

He said right now there are also programs in the works to hire individuals with special needs to perform certain repetitive tasks at the company, which offers full-time employees three weeks of vacation a year.

From left, Governor's Executive Councilor Andruu Volinsky, Don Jones, GM of Albany Composites, Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney, Sean Hoeing of Safran, Jim Sinclair of Safran, Executive Councilor David Wheeler, Gov. Chris Sununu, and Executive Councilors Chris Pappas and Russll Prescott during proclamations ceremony at ATAC on Wednesday.

Hoeing said Safran is a multinational corporation with offices all over the world, but Rochester is recognized as the global leader in composites training.

Dean Graziano, extended learning opportunities coordinator at the RW Creteau Regional Technical Center, noted this year a program recently funded will allow 13 seniors to graduate next year with their high school diploma and Advanced Composite Manufacturing certificates.

The students will split time between the Creteau school and ATAC campus a short walk away at the Lilac Mall.

My Turn, an advocacy and support nonprofit seeking to help the city's youth, also helps to align those who are struggling with various life problems toward a possible career via the ATAC.

Mattson said the key to the success of ATAC is the ability to get the machines factories are using into the classrooms so students get hands-on training to prepare them for immediate job openings.

"Rochester's relationships are very strong," said Sununu, who read a proclamation that praised the city for its effort in being a trailblazer in this new public-private collaboration.

Karen Pollard, Rochester's Economic Development Manager, who has been a huge part of the Safran/Albany/Rochester partnership since the beginning, called the ATAC facility the "cornerstone" of the program's present success.

"It's helped turn out a workforce of 500 people," she said.

"Now any business can come in here and have it look like their factory," she added looking around the room. "This is like a mini Safran or Albany, but when we started working toward this we didn't know we'd get Safran or Albany. That took vision."

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