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George M. Graham, director of the Wacker Institute and chemical engineering technology department head, describes students' use of the practice sieve tray column at the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. The actual apparatuses used in industrial manufacturing are several times the size of the practice column. Wacker is readying to make job offers to a new group of prospective employees.

Wacker Polysilicon has identified about half of its workforce so far as it looks to reach the 650-employee mark within the next 18 months.

Erika Burk, the plant's human resources director, said it has hired 220 people and extended offers to another 115.

The company, which is building a $1.8 billion factory in Bradley County, Tenn., targeting the solar industry, is wooing new high school graduates, she said.

The company wants to enroll potential new hires through its Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College.

Tim McGhee, dean of CSCC's engineering technology division, said Wacker is making job offers to more than 95 percent of the people enrolling at the program so far.

"What we're doing is running a partnership," he said.

After 16 months, students can receive an associate in applied science and be ready to earn more than $40,000 annually as chemical operators, Burk said.

"They're going through with a purpose in mind," she said. "There's a bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow."

George Graham, who directs the Wacker Institute, said the program isn't necessarily looking for people with an engineering bent.

"You don't have to be an engineering-type person," he said. "All the people in the program are serious career-minded individuals."

Graham said the company also is looking for people who might be considering a career change.

McGhee said that when students graduate, they'll do so with a training level comparable to nuclear plant operators.

"This is 21st century education and manufacturing," he said.

Burk said that in addition to chemical operators, it will have a need for maintenance technicians, technical operators and others.

She said there are about 30 slots open on its website.

Some students the company has already hired are at Wacker world headquarters in Burghausen, Germany, for six months of training. Another group is slated to go over at the end of August.

The institute holds a miniature version of the planned factory. About $13.7 million was spent to buy the former Olan Mills photography building off Amnicola Highway and put in seven new classrooms, a lab and the pilot plant.