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War vets get on-the-job training

Program will help bring 20,000 engineers into state workforce

Posted: December 19, 2008 9:07 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2008 12:00 p.m.

A Stellar Microelectronics employee works on putting parts together at the new facility Thursday morning.

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With the help of a high-tech Valencia company, California's governor kicked off an apprenticeship program designed to provide war veterans with technical degrees and on-the-job training.

"This program will help fill California's goal of bringing 20,000 engineers into the state's workforce over the next decade and provide returning military veterans with career opportunities," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who could not attend the opening Thursday because he was in an emergency session of the Legislature in Sacramento.

"I look forward to seeing this pilot program grow," he said in a statement.

Local and state politicians and engineers joined billionaire entrepreneur Alfred E. Mann to tour his new Stellar Microelectronics Inc. plant in Valencia and introduce Schwarzenegger's veteran-friendly Engineering Initiative.

Dignitaries such as Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar, Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce president Larry Mankin, and representatives for U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, State Senator George Runner and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth praised Stellar as being an integral contributor to the SCV.

Mann called the facility one of the "most impressive" of his bunch.

"This is one that is really hiring people today," he said.

The company employs close to 300 people but continues to grow, said Alex Richardson, Stellar's vice president of business development.

Stellar increased its workforce by 50 percent in the last year, and Richardson anticipates doubling the workforce in the next few years.

To do so, the company needs qualified workers.

The new apprenticeship program could provide them.

A collaboration between Stellar, California State University, Cal State Los Angeles, College of the Canyons and the state of California, the program gives veterans an opportunity to simultaneously advance their educations and careers through one-on-one on-the-job training in a highly technical environment.

"For veterans who cannot afford to leave the workforce because of significantly complicated lives or because they have families ... this apprenticeship allows them that pathway of working while going to school at the same time," Renee Bacchini of the state's Department of Industrial Relations said.

"There's something to be said about working right next to someone with skilled experience and to learn the culture of the workplace," she said.

The pilot program will help veterans earn a technical certificate, associate's degree and possibly a bachelor's degree while getting hands-on training, an industrial relations official said.

"Without private partners like Stellar, we would not be able to offer the real-world professional internships and apprenticeships that are so valued by today's modern industry," said Garrett Ashley, vice chancellor of California State University.

Mann founded Stellar in 1974 as an engineering, design and production services company for electronics in the biomedical, aerospace and military markets, a company news release said.

"Participating in (this) apprenticeship program is consistent with Stellar's philosophy and passion to continue to build the finest team in the industry, which allows us to maintain high growth and onshore competitiveness in the global market," Stellar President Gregory Horton said.

The 140,000-square-foot plant in the Hasley Hills-Valencia Commerce Center features a manufacturing and testing laboratory with technological resources including advanced component-placement production lines, wafer and die processing, wire bonding, scanning electron microscopy, three-dimensional x-ray and numerous electronic test capabilities, the news release said.

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