While working two part-time jobs, Harold Coleman spent the last three months learning the latest in printing technology at Flexographic Trade School in Fort Mill, S.C.
"I come here from 8 in the morning until 4," he said as he helped a newer student work the press.
He decided to pursue this training at his father's suggestion. "My father printed for 35 years." Coleman now hopes to land a job that pays a lot better than minimum wage. "You see him 10 years from now and I wouldn't be surprised if he had his own shop," Art Fields said of Coleman.
Fields is president of Flexographic Trade Services, which operates the school. He says Coleman is an ideal student, one who's been there on time every day while learning about an industry that's growing.
"Our industry, flexographic printing, is growing at a 15 percent clip every year," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the stuff you see in a store is printed and converted this way - everything from a dog food bag to a label on a mayonnaise jar."
To take part in a training course, you need to take a mechanical skills test. Pass that, and the $2,500 cost is waived.
"Our vendors basically donate to the scholarship fund every year," he said. Companies like DuPont, to cite one well-known example, give Flexographic money to train workers. And there's a good reason why. "We could put as many people to work as want to come in here and take the program. We just don't find them," he said. Fields is proud that the training is privately funded.
But recruiting has proven frustrating. "These are scholarships we have available. They come here for free and we still don't get it," he said.
Most of his students are people who have jobs now but are looking to better their careers. He's surprised more of the unemployed aren't looking here. And reaching out to military veterans and their families has turned up only one graduate.
"When I have a student graduate, they generally get to talk to four or eight companies before they take the job," Fields said.
We talked to student Harold Coleman on his graduation day. "I got a job offer in Wisconsin," he said with a smile. He's also gotten an interview at a local company and would prefer to stay in the area. About 30 percent of graduates are hired within 50 miles of Fort Mill.
Fields said starting pay ranges from $14 to $18 an hour. For Coleman that is a dramatic improvement over two part-time jobs and minimum wage.
"If you're not willing to go outside the box and challenge yourself, you're always going to sit back and watch TV and complain about what is going on in the world," he said.
"In 12 years, we never graduated a student that didn't go to work," Art Fields said.