Ready to Hire! Blackfox Provides IPC Class 3 Training to Veterans
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.
Many employers are a little bit leery of getting involved in applying for grants because of the perceived red tape that's involved. It's really to the benefit of the employers, because they don't have to do hardly anything. We take care of all that for them. If the veteran wants to tap into their VA benefits, Blackfox is approved for VA benefits. Any veteran who wants to go outside the normal model can come to Blackfox for training and certification and we can help them do that. The majority of folks that come through are guided through the whole process through the State and Federal folks.
Barry: When they come in for the training are they going to one of your four facilities? Is that how that works?
Al: Right now they're all going through Colorado because our plan is to prove this model in Colorado first. Then we probably want to take it next to Arizona. Then we'll expand wherever the need is, and we don't necessarily have to have a training facility there—we can set up even a temporary facility, or use an employer’s facility, if need be. It's very expandable.
Barry: This sounds great. It actually sounds like very satisfying work.
Al: It is—absolutely.
Barry: So veterans are basically pre-hired when they come to you?
Al: They are. During this whole process, the employer that we work with has an opportunity to come in and meet with the veterans and interview with them. They can start the process running in parallel with the training for background checks and all the other things they require. By the time the veteran graduates, they're ready to go to work.
Barry: What's the cycle of the training?
Al: It varies, but usually between four and six weeks. We cover three to four IPC certifications and eight Blackfox certifications, which are skill-based certifications. That's a typical model of the curriculum.
Barry: Have you tracked retention rates for those who have been placed?
Al: We have on the first group. We're running at more than 60% retention. It's quite a success story. We’re after 100%, of course.
Barry: For that 40% that have dropped out, how does that work? Do they come back through?
Al: For the few that have not succeeded at class 3, there are many companies that hire for class 2 folks, too. They don't have to go into class 3. Not everyone can meet that criteria in such a short time frame, so for those who don't, again working with the State and employers, we help them find employment. None of our graduates are unemployed that I'm aware of at this point.
We ended up with a consortium of employers and the government. State and federal were involved, Blackfox, as well as a community college, but mostly Blackfox was the educational entity here so we tied these groups together. The most challenging part was connecting all the dots and getting everybody to speak together. There's a demand out there with the employers for highly skilled individuals. We have transitioning veterans coming in by the thousands right now who want to work, have a lot of very solid backgrounds and great work ethics. And we have the funding sitting out there that so many employers are not even aware of.
We're involved in trying to connect all these different entities to understand what the opportunities are. We've done this now for three years, training mostly veterans for career paths with prime employers like Lockheed Martin and in mil/aerospace and the like.
The average retention rate I've been told for these kinds of programs is under 30%. But this is highly targeted and it involves a lot of key players. Again, it took a long time to connect everybody, but we finally have it going and like I said, this is a model that can be emulated for other industries, not just for ours.
Barry: You're creating a model that is just so valuable, and what a great resource for employers because they know that whoever they hire through this program is well-trained and comes with some fundamentals and, as you say, a good work ethic or discipline.
Al: Exactly, Barry, and there's no cost to the veteran. There's no cost to the employer.
Barry: These are our heroes. We should take care of them.
Al: They're our heroes and we're proud to be part of this. It's a wonderful thing.
Barry: Al, thank you so much for sharing this story and I look forward to seeing you in Colorado very soon.
Al: Thank you.
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MORE ABOUT BLACKFOX
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Blackfox is the leader in providing quality training systems and custom courses to the electronic manufacturing industry's cutting edge companies. Blackfox is also the premier worldwide authorized IPC training center, providing all current IPC Certifications. For more information, visit them on the web at www.blackfox.com or contact Sharon Montana-Beard at email@example.com.