The company still has to hire about half of its workforce for the new plant under construction west of Charleston, according to Wacker Polysilicon North America Human Resources Director Erika Burk.
Burk said the company would be interviewing more than 100 applicants for technical operator positions in the fall with a hire date in 2013.
“We are looking for people with a technical background. An associate’s degree is preferred but not required,” she said.
The company has hired many of its engineers, senior chemical operators and lab technicians and many in management.
“We still have a lot of engineers we’re still looking for. We have hired all of our procurement and many of our logistics personnel, but we have some more to hire next year. We’ll also be looking for our fire brigade next year,” she said.
The fire brigade will have a complement of about 30 firefighters.
Future technical operators will have a production job requiring some knowledge of chemistry that will be taught on the job, “and there’s a high level of quality control and problem solving.”
Technical operators must have the initiative to correct defects in the packaging process that could contaminate the final product.
“Our polysilicon is extremely pure and any exposure to outside material or even human touch would immediately contaminate and ruin it,” she said.
“Whoever is handling it has to have a good eye for quality control and if there is an issue, immediately jump on it and be a good problem solver.”
The first group of technical operators hired in the first quarter of 2013 will go to Germany for six months. They will not attend the Wacker Institute in Chattanooga.
The Wacker Institute encompasses about 25,000 square feet of the former Olan Mills photography building next to Chattanooga State Community College. It represents a $3 million investment for developing specific programs of study in the areas of chemical technology, chemical laboratory technology, mechanical technology and electrical/instrumentation technology.
The company expects to hire up to 650 employees at the $1.8 billion green energy plant, where raw silicon will be used in the production of hyperpure polycrystalline silicon, a starting component for solar panels and semiconductors.
Burk said many people are enrolling in the institute through the standard associate’s degree program.
“The students start and then we hire them once they’ve completed the program. They do not have to go to work for Wacker, but of course, we hope they do and many of the courses have Wacker-specific elements to them. We’ve got a lot of people enrolled. We’re always looking for more,” she said.
Burk said the program has been very successful since the first students went to orientation day on July 25, 2011. She said very few people drop out of the rigorous training because future employment is a motivating factor. Students are interviewed after completing the first semester and are offered a job in the second semester. The goal is to graduate with a 3.0 grade-point average.
“They know in the second semester if they have a job waiting for them a year to a year and a half before they even complete the program,” Burk said. “That has not only been an amazing retention tool, but it has also been an enticement to join the program because in this day and age, you’re lucky to get a job. And you’re certainly lucky to get a job a year before you finish your classes.”
In the future, when the plant is up and running, the prospect of an automatic job offer will end as needs are filled.
“However, there will always be opportunities for anyone who graduates from this program, whether it’s with our company or other companies,” she said.
“There are many companies in the area who would be very lucky to have such highly skilled chemical operators.”
Wacker Polysilicon North America is located near Olin Corporation, a supplier of chlorine used in the purification process of the raw silicon. The plant is part of Wacker Chemical Co., which is located in Adrian, Mich. It is the North American subsidiary of Wacker Chemie AG, based in Munich, Germany.
Wacker Chemie purchased 78 acres from Olin Corporation and about 450 acres from Wright Brothers Construction Co., of Charleston.
Wacker broke ground for work for the company’s integrated polysilicon production site in April 2011. The new plant will have an annual capacity of 18,000 metric tons when it begins production in late 2013.