Employees of Continental Tire North America’s Mt. Vernon plant are taking advantage of the benefits available through a new training center created by the company and Rend Lake College.

“Rend Lake College is very proud of the fact that Continental Tire chose us to play a major part in their training program,” said RLC President Mark S. Kern.

Rend Lake College equipped the center with computers and distance learning (videoconferencing) equipment, while CTNA provided the space and renovation work. The college hired Sharon Bowman to serve as Industrial Training Coordinator to work with CTNA officials and obtain the training needed by the plant’s workforce. Employees at CTNA often undergo mandatory safety and other types of training. The center, which is now in operation, contains a conference room, computer lab and the videoconferencing equipment.

Kern said the college needs to provide training to attract new industries and maintain existing industries. He said Rend Lake College is very aware of the economic impact Continental Tire has on the region.

A sampling of training conducted at the center includes welding safety, respirator training, forklift refreshers and lock-out / tag-out. Several employees have enrolled in RLC’s German language classes, and in the spring RLC officials plan to begin offering the first two years of a four-year degree in general business administration.

In addition to training, employees of the plant can take advantage of the videoconferencing equipment to take regular credit classes offered by Rend Lake College. Employees also can enroll in classes with any other public four-year school in the state as well as schools in other states which have similar videoconferencing equipment.

Bowman said the training center was completed in parts, and as a section was completed, employees began using it. She said the center has been hosting full-semester courses, management classes and an average of two computer classes each week. Six full-time classes, two of which are distance learning classes, are already scheduled for Spring Semester.

Placement testing and counseling have been made available for employees pursuing a college degree for the first time. She said 23 employees already have undergone counseling and more sessions are scheduled.

According to Bowman, a survey was issued in which the many of answerers who were interested in taking college classes indicated that they had a high school diploma or GED but had no college experience. In contrast, there were employees with four-year degrees who indicated they wanted to take specific classes to upgrade their skills.

“It just blossomed after the training center was completed. People here are responding very well to it. They are anxious to have the opportunity for the training,” Bowman said.

“We want to produce a world-class organization, in which our employees are involved and empowered with the processes in our plant,” said Scott Cravens, Human Resources Manager at the CTNA Mt. Vernon plant. “We are very excited about having this partnership with Rend Lake College, in which we have created a training center which will allow us to train our employees in many of the new methodologies that are required to succeed in today’s marketplace.”

Hank Eisenga, Plant Manager, said global competition is fierce, but the new training center will help CTNA succeed. He said the goal is to teach all of the plant’s employees what is needed to succeed on a global basis.

“There are two ways to view a challenge. One is to ignore it and hope it goes away. The other is to view it as an opportunity to achieve levels of greatness. At Continental Tire, our vision is to become the best tire manufacturer in the world. We believe that vision will be achieved right here on Southern Illinois soil with an American workforce and in partnership with Rend Lake College and other agencies,” Eisenga said.

Kern said the college has worked with Continental Tire for several years, but this is the most extensive partnership effort made thus far. Continental A.G., General Tire and GTY Tire was the first to step to the forefront with a lead gift of $100,000 when the RLC Foundation embarked on its first major fund-raising “Generations of Excellence” capital campaign in December 1994.

The tire manufacturer also awards scholarships annually to several children and / or spouses of Continental Tire employees attending Rend Lake College.

In past years, Rend Lake College and Continental Tire have worked together on multiple projects, such as sending students to CTNA through RLC’s Cooperative Education and Employment Services program. This provides students with on-the-job experience and the company with temporary employees for special projects.

Rend Lake College has worked with Continental Tire to provide courses or training since the plant opened in 1974. That includes classes in personnel management and supervision, business communications, team building, industrial safety, quality control, motor alignment, industrial electricity / electronics and computer program applications, among others.

Kern said, “Continental Tire is in the business of building tires and it is something I have found that they do with a great deal of pride and excellence. Rend Lake College is in the business of providing education, and believe me, it is something we also do with a great deal of pride and excellence. There is no doubt that this will make for an excellent partnership.”

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