SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Scott Barber was still a student at Springfield Technical Community College when he was offered a machinist position at Universal Plastics in Holyoke. In his view, the job was a great fit for him.

“I like all the hands-on work and the trouble-shooting we do here,” Barber said from the factory. “And that’s what I loved about STCC. The Mechanical Engineering Technology program was hands-on.”

Other aspects of the program at STCC carried over into his position at Universal Plastics. He can apply what he learned: coding, quality control, five-axis computer numerical control (CNC) machining and more.

Universal Plastics co-owner Pia Kumar, who hired Barber, of Agawam, and other STCC graduates, gets excited when talking about STCC and how the college prepares students for manufacturing jobs.

“The faculty really gets what we do. They train their students on CNC machines. They teach on them. A lot of them have had industry experience,” she said. “When we get STCC students here, they hit the ground running. They understand expectations. The rule of thumb is if STCC sends us someone, you have to give me a reason not to hire them. They always have a good combination of work ethic and a desire to be in manufacturing.”

STCC graduate Andrew O’Connor.

She recalled when she interviewed Barber, she gave him the option to start with a trimmed down schedule since he was still a STCC student.

“He said he wanted to work full time and go to class in the evening,” Kumar said. “That’s the work ethic and commitment we see from STCC students. They’re here to work and make their lives better, and we’re privileged to be able to give them the opportunity to grow.”

Another STCC graduate working at Universal Plastics, Andrew O’Connor, went through the Engineering Science Transfer program. He graduated in the spring 2019 and transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he is studying mechanical engineering. He works at Universal Plastics Tuesdays and Thursdays, but has put in full-time hours over the summer when school was out.

“I get a broad view of what it’s like to be an engineer working here,” said O’Connor, of Granby. “I use (computer-aided design) programs here like SOLIDWORKS and AutoCAD, which I learned at STCC. It’s great.”

When he was still a STCC student, one of his professors told him about the position at Universal Plastics. He didn’t have a summer job lined up, so it was an opportunity he didn’t want to miss.

When we get STCC students here, they hit the ground running. They understand expectations.
Pia Kumar, Co-owner, Universal Plastics
“If I didn’t go to STCC I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity,” O’Connor said. “I love being here. I met some really cool people and some friends.”

STCC graduate Miguel Fontanez and Pia Kumar, co-owner of Universal Plastics in Holyoke.

STCC graduate Miguel Fontanez has been working as a router, machine operator and floor leader at Universal Plastics for almost six years. He manages work coming into the department.

Another employee, Monique Grala, went through a program offered through the STCC Workforce Development Center. After learning mechanical and electrical assembly, she received a certificate and job offers from two regional companies, including Universal Plastics.

“The training was helpful because I learned to read blueprints, which is what I do for my job now,” Grala said.

At Universal Plastics, Grala prepares work orders for the formers – the workers who form pieces of plastic into products. She also is responsible for managing visual boards to share information across departments.

Pia Kumar, Monique Grala and Mike Denette, general manager at Universal Plastics.

Universal Plastics is a custom manufacturer. The facility in Holyoke is the largest of five and specializes in custom thermoforming, a process which entails heating plastic to a pliable temperature. Once the plastic is pliable, it is formed to a specific shape in a mold and trimmed to create a usable product.

The company creates products for the aerospace, medical and transportation industries. For example, they produce the plastic seatbacks for commercial airliners.

Michael Denette, general manager at Universal Plastics, said employees from STCC start their jobs with an understanding of the environment.

“An education at STCC translates well into manufacturing,” Denette said. “Hands-on training is extremely important in today’s workforce development, and STCC seems to be out in front of what our region needs.”

Interested in applying to STCC? Visit stcc.edu/apply or call Admissions at (413) 755-3333.

About Springfield Technical Community College

Founded in 1967 and located on 35 acres of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, STCC is a major resource for the economic vitality of Western Massachusetts. As the only technical community college in Massachusetts, STCC, a designated Hispanic Serving Institution, offers a variety of career programs unequalled in the state. STCC’s highly regarded transfer programs in business, engineering, liberal arts, science and technology continue to provide the most economical options for students pursuing a four-year degree. With an annual enrollment of about 7,000 day, evening, weekend and online students, STCC is a vibrant campus rich in diversity.

For more information about STCC, visit www.stcc.edu.

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