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Published: Monday, 2/9/2009

Lima military plant training next generation of workers

BY BART MILLS
LIMA NEWS

LIMA, Ohio - The next generation of combat vehicles will soon start rolling off the line at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, formerly called the Lima tank plant in Allen County. But first, the company must train the next generation of workers.

General Dynamics recently announced it would add at least 300 jobs in the next year at the northwest Ohio plant. Many of the new workers will be building a new line of manned ground vehicles for the U.S. Army. The new line will mean new machines, methods, and, most of all, new ways of training workers.

"There are significantly more challenges because the vehicle platforms are becoming much more complicated," plant manager Keith Deters said.

For decades, the tank plant employed generations of welders, mechanics, and assemblers to pump out the Abrams tank, which repeatedly has been updated and improved. But this next generation of vehicles takes it to a whole new level.

"What we're working on now are the most complex ground vehicles built in the world," Mr. Deters said.

The plant offers worker training, but this year it will have its own in-house training center. The center will include classroom space, simulators, and actual vehicles, giving employees the chance to gain both the book knowledge and hands-on training needed to be ready when they hit the line.

"We want to have the ability in that new training center to bring people in not only to the classroom, but to get hands-on, to be able to operate the tank, take it apart and put it back together, [and] learn all the testing," Mr. Deters said.

It was less than four years ago that locals battled to keep the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center off the kill list of the U.S. Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Since then, employment has doubled and continues to grow.

Training is a great opportunity for workers, but more importantly, it's key to the future success - and continued survival - of the local plant, local officials said.

"We've seen this coming. We need to develop training to meet the challenges if we want to retain that work for a long time. I don't want it to be a problem because we don't have enough trained people to do the work here," Mr. Deters said.

Linda Damer, human resources manager, added, "We realize it will take all of us working together to keep us off any future [closing] list. Something like this helps us realize that goal. It helps us, it helps our soldiers, and it helps our hometown community."



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