published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Chattanooga State hosts Wacker pilot plant

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    Donna Colquitt teaches an engineering class to new Wacker employees at Chattanooga State Community College on Tuesday.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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A miniature version of Wacker's planned production plant is going up at Chattanooga State Community College as the company powers up hiring and training for its Bradley County factory.

The pilot plant, slated to open by early October, will help instruct new employees, said Erika Burk, human resources director for the factory that will make polysilicon for solar power use.

"This is Wacker's first polysilicon plant outside of Germany. The product has to be perfect," she said Tuesday at the Wacker Institute off Amnicola Highway.

Wacker has hired about 130 people so far, Burk said.

By late 2012, the plant plans to be up to 500 workers, she said. In the third quarter of 2013, the facility under construction near Charleston, Tenn., will employ up to 650, Burk said.

Last month, Wacker Chemical Chief Executive Officer Ingomar Kovar told the first 60 lead chemical operators hired by the company that the factory may reach 700 employees. He also said plant investment could exceed the announced $1.5 billion figure.

Wacker is teaming with Chattanooga State for the $5 million teaching facility. Wacker has donated $3 million for construction of the state-of-the-art pilot plant, occupying about 24,000 square feet of an existing building.

"This is the heart of the Wacker Institute," Burk said about the pilot plant.

Munich, Germany-based Wacker is hiring technicians in the chemical process, mechanical, chemical laboratory, electronics and instrumentation areas.

"We're looking for people with supervisory experience," Burk said, especially in manufacturing, as well as chemical and mechanical engineers and people in the procurement sector.

Burk said Wacker has received 10,000 applications so far. She said training is in progress, and will be "as long as you're at Wacker."

Amanda Plecas, Wacker's site communications manager, said the company is committed to the "sustainability ... of employees."

"Wacker stresses teamwork," she said.

Burk said the first group of lead chemical operators now being trained at Chattanooga State will receive an intensive 14- to 16-month program that includes six months in Burghausen, Germany, starting early next year.

"The plant in Burghausen is similar to what we have here," she said. "When they come back, they'll be up and running."

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about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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328Kwebsite said...

The company makes polysilicon for any use. They resell it to other companies. The solar panel is for the pretty pictures.

Wacker initially said they would hire 70 lead chemical operators. They only hired 60. Why?

Their initial testing involved no scientific math, no questions about Chemistry, and used computer games developed for Volkswagen hiring. The placement company they used claims a success rate of 70%, which is about 4% better than randomness.

Their employment ads stressed a need for adaptability to German language and culture. None of the applicants were tested for foreign language proficiency.

The training program at Chattanooga State requires prospective employees to pay for the cost of their own training. Wacker's position is that "if you can walk and chew gum, we'll give you an interview." After they purchase job-specific training that will so narrowly qualify them for employment that their education will not be portable to other companies. They are offering starting salaries in the bottom 40% of the industry average in the United States.

I have had over $100,000 in post-bacc training in Chemical Operations from the military. I have spoken German since I was four years old. I was not asked a single relevant question to any scientific operation when I was "assessed" for working with Wacker.

When applying for $7/hr jobs on a survey crew, I was required to do more scientific math. I practiced Trig, decay and logistic problems for over a month to prep for the Wacker interview. I practiced those problems because I know from experience just how important those kinds of math problems are to controlling the environment an experiment occurs in. During the Wacker assessments, I was not asked to do math above the 9th grade factoring. Factoring is a 16th Century procedure for estimating an answer for a large number. It's not relevant, effective or useful in today's computer age of expected accuracy.

When applying to Wacker, I noticed that living near the plant and having past employment experience with M&M Mars were what was important to their HR people.

I was not selected, or called in for a face to face interview. I have no idea what they did to choose their employees. The selection procedure did not look remotely like anything that I would expect from a job with management potential in this field.

It's time to stop the love-in and start asking critical questions about what is going on. These people are receiving massive tax breaks and mis-using our educational institutions while not living up to their half of the agreement. It is time to closely scrutinize what they say. It's another smoke and mirrors ploy from local politicians and their rich cronies.

August 17, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.
justathought said...

Didn't Wacker also conduct one of those personality/psychological tests? Ever think that might be why you didn't get in? Just a thought.

August 18, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.
olemanriver said...

I also heard Wacker did psycological profiles and by the souns of the idiot who is complaining I believe we know why he didnt get called back. I dont know about the ones they hired but this one that they didnt give even a sniff was a SMART choice!!!!

August 18, 2011 at 9:17 p.m.
Catmando said...

Both olemanriver and justathought's comments are rude and inappropriate. In light of Wacker's failure to deliver on their promise to many new hires and Chat State students it is obvious that 328Kwebsite knows what he is talking about. In fact, I am one of those many new hires and so called Wacker trainees that attended Chat State and paid his own way. No Wacker paid education subsidized by the State of Tennessee. No student loans subsidized by the US Government. Just my own hard earned cash. I can assure you that many of those with loans and tuition picked up by Wacker couldn't have gotten through high school chemistry and math let alone college. 328Kwebsite is correct in his observation that the Wacker hiring team purposely selected locals to fulfill the hiring demands of the local politicians who lobbied to bring Wacker to Tennessee. The only fact that 328Kwebsite left out is that the majority of the Wacker chemical operator hires couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. Why should the Tennessee tax payers and U.S. citizens subsidize the hiring of a few 100 Bradley and Hamilton County locals?

September 25, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.
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