Hershey boot camp gives new workers taste of success

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Richard Woods was hired after completing the boot camp conceived
by Debby Hopkins. Photo by Norm Shafer

At 20, Dalton Branch felt he wasn’t reaching his potential waiting tables at Applebee’s, so when a friend told him how much he had enjoyed The Hershey Co.’s boot camp at the Stuarts Draft plant, Branch thought he would give it a try.

“The classes were great life lessons,” says the Waynesboro High School graduate, now a temporary worker at the chocolate maker’s production line in Stuarts Draft.

Hershey’s boot camp is the brainchild of Debby Hopkins, chief workforce officer and program director at the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board, which provides workforce services to prepare production workers for their new jobs.

“We give students examples of things that have happened that led to terminations and how to avoid them, and what specific behaviors will lead to a successful career at Hershey,” Hopkins says.

During two weeks of instruction this summer, Branch learned everything from how to operate power equipment to how to balance his budget. “I realized it would allow me to have a better lifestyle for myself and potentially give me a career in manufacturing,” he says.

The boot camp, which started last year with 11 participants, targets recent high school graduates and people who are underemployed, want to make a job change or have disabilities. Hopkins hopes to expand the program to other businesses.

Participants are hired and paid through the plant’s temporary labor contractor, System One. Graduates are first in line for full-time jobs, and seven people from the first boot camp in 2018 are now full-time workers at Hershey. From this year’s class in June, 24 out of 30 are still employed by System One.

“We wanted to find the best sources for our labor pool,” says Karen Van Curen, senior human resources manager for Hershey’s Stuarts Draft plant, and the company has embraced the program as it plans a major expansion in Stuarts Draft next year.

Right now, the local workforce is at 1,100 after 212 employees were hired in 2018. And the $104 million Reese’s Peanut Roasting Center of Excellence, Hershey’s advanced, high-tech peanut-roasting facility, is expected to come online around October 2020, creating 65 jobs, with the possibility of adding more later.

“Boot camp helped us realize there is a gap between a person who has been in manufacturing and one who hasn’t,” says Van Curen. “It’s quite a learning curve, and boot camp can soften that.”

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