STUARTS DRAFT — Hershey hosted its second annual Boot Camp in early June.

“The purpose of the Boot Camp really was to look into the community, and find people who had no prior manufacturing experience,” said Christi Branch, training coordinator at Hershey’s Stuarts Draft plant.

Hershey worked with the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center to find eligible applicants, as well as local high school graduates.

“We had a diverse variety of people both in age and background,” Branch said of the applicants.

Branch said that the Boot Camp was a brainchild between Hershey and the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. Last year’s enrollment was kept small, but this year allowed for more enrollment in the program.

Training began at the end of April with 200 eligible applicants, then the pool was cut down to 150 to 160 after assessment testing and background checks before 30 applicants were permitted to attend Boot Camp.

Eligibility for Hershey’s Boot Camp includes being over age 18, willingness to work off shifts, willingness to work overtime, possess a high school diploma or GED, pass a background check and pass a basic skills assessment test.

Boot Camp participants are employed through System One, a temp agency.

“So, this is kind of an opportunity for these folks to discover: ‘Is manufacturing right for me?’” Branch said, and also an opportunity for Hershey to decide if they are a good fit for the company.

In April, Hershey celebrated a groundbreaking for its Peanut Butter Center for Excellence, and expects to hire up to 200 in 2020 for the expansion project, but the company will need a total of 300 new hires next year with retirements and attrition.

“It’s a pretty substantial expansion,” said Jeff Beckman, director of Hershey’s corporate communications, who is based in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The company hopes to begin roasting peanuts for its products, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, at the Stuarts Draft plant and have product ready for market in July 2020.

“Stuarts Draft will really be our latest in peanut roasting technology,” Beckman said.

The expansion is costing Hershey $105 million, according to Karen Van Curen, senior human resources manager at the Stuarts Draft plant.

This year’s Boot Camp participants who did well will be allowed first dibs next year for the new positions in the expansion project.

“If people do well through the Boot Camp, we do hire them,” Branch said.

Branch said that doing well includes showing up to work on time and having good attendance, getting along with co-workers, learning to do the job safely, and following the company’s dress code, including wearing safety equipment.

“Really, if a person can be here and be on time, and be willing to learn — that is the definition for success,” Branch said.

Boot Camp this year began June 3 with soft skills training, then participants got out on the manufacturing floor. The camp’s 30 participants are still working at Hershey as employees of System One.

Branch said that the advantage for newly graduated high school students who participate in the program is Boot Camp enables them to avoid the initial overwhelming sense of coming from high school into a larger environment.

“I think [Boot Camp] helps us just in terms in promoting diversity in our hiring practice,” Branch said.

According to Beckman, diversity is an initiative in hiring for Hershey, including employees with special needs.

“This is not new for the company. This is an area we take pride in,” Beckman said, and diversity is a “company commitment” at the Stuarts Draft plant.

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