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I-Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties caught up with Al Dill, president and CEO at Blackfox Training Institute, for an in-depth discussion on Blackfox's expansion plans for North America (Tempe, Arizona and Guadalajara, Mexico) and Malaysia (Penang). Dill also describes the highly successful veteran’s training program, which is being spearheaded at the Blackfox headquarters in Longmont, Colorado.
Barry: Hello Al. Why don't you start by telling us a little about Blackfox and what the company provides?
Al: Thanks, Barry. Blackfox is an authorized IPC training center and we've expanded this past year into four different regions, with approval from IPC. Our headquarters are still in Longmont, Colorado, and we have new facilities in Tempe, Arizona; Penang, Malaysia; and Guadalajara, Mexico. All four locations are true brick-and-mortar training centers. We are an international company covering IPC standards and a gambit of other types of electronic technology, skill-based training, and so on.
Barry: How does your program work? Does a company call you and say, "We have a group of people." Or is it individuals who call you?
Al: It's all of the above, Barry. Individuals contact us for certification or re-certification, and companies with large groups contact us to actually come on-site, bring equipment at times, set up and train a group. I'd venture to guess at least half of our training is conducted at our customer sites.
Barry: Why would a company come to Blackfox? Does IPC offer this, or is this something that they just endorse?
Al: There are quite a few authorized training centers around the world. Forty plus, I think right now. Why would you come to Blackfox? Because we're different: All we do is train and certify. We don't manufacture anything and don't compete at all with our customers. We're a support service group only. We care about our customers and we take care of them.
Barry: Do you have to go through your own certification process to be certified to teach?
Al: We must meet certain criteria in order to be authorized by IPC. All of our trainers are considered Master IPC Instructors, which means that they can train and certify instructors, or CITs, in IPC's language. You have to become a certification center in order to have master-level instructors. We also train trainers for other companies, operators, and so on. IPC is our core business, but we've expanded into many other things currently, which we're excited about.
Barry: Tell me more about that.
Al: One thing in particular that I'm very passionate about is our program that provides our transitioning veterans an opportunity for a career path as a civilian. We work in conjunction and collaboration with various state departments. Right now, we are primarily working with the Colorado State Department of Labor and Employment, Veteran Services Group, and with manufacturers that want to hire qualified people. What we do is we use the state agencies for recruiting, primarily veterans, who are transitioning and want a career in electronic manufacturing. They go through and select a group; they assess these folks for their interest and their ability for this type of industry. They come to Blackfox, and we filter their interest with skill-based assessments and the like, and then we collaborate with potential employers. We then contact employers that are interested in hiring veterans and interview them to better understand what their exact skill requirements are. Then, we work with the employer to develop a curriculum that's specific to what their needs are. Finally, we then train and certify to those unique requirements.
Barry: How long have you been doing this and how is the program working out?
Al: This is our third year, and it's going great. We've trained over a hundred people so far. Of the hundred, roughly 80% have made it through the program at class 3. I forgot to mention that this is all at an IPC class 3 level, which is the most stringent and mainly for aerospace companies. We work an awful lot with Lockheed Martin. They were our first employer to step up and really want to be a part of this program. We've passed to them approximately 75 qualified veterans, and that is just in Lockheed Martin’s Colorado location.
Barry: That's really interesting, because helping our veterans is one of the areas I think we really have to put energy into as a country. Is there a particular age group that's coming through this, or is it a wide range?
Al: It's a wide spectrum of ages. We've had folks who are probably in their early twenties to mid-sixties, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. Everyone that has gone through the program really wants to be part of this program and wants an opportunity. We've trained some veterans who are in their mid-sixties that have not had the opportunity, sometimes, because of age. They've been most successful running through this program and it's established a very good career path into aerospace.
Barry: Are your services limited to just technical manufacturing? For example, if somebody wanted to come in and move into a marketing or sales role is that something that you’re looking at?
Al: It's something we're looking at. As a matter of fact, the State has looked at this process as a model to use for other industries and job disciplines. We plan to really fine-tune the program we have now for our industry and then help others model it, including Blackfox. I think there are opportunities for us to help out in sales and marketing, support functions, and those kinds of things. But for right now we're really focused on this industry and fine-tuning the model.
Barry: How does the revenue work for you? Who's paying the bill?
Al: It's all funded through state and federal training grants. There is no cost to the veteran. There is no cost to the employer whatsoever. As a matter of fact, we have not had any veterans in this program tap into their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. It's all been funded through state and federal grants so far. What is amazing is how many employers who aren't aware of this program.