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ORNL Laboratory Technology Program provides opportunities for underemployed workers

Lab Tech program gives AMTEC participant a second chance at success

Jim Kron

After a nearly fatal car accident rendered Maryville, Tenn., native Jim Kron jobless, he turned to Roane State Community College’s Advanced Materials Training and Education Center. There, he gained skills he now employs at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In 1999, as friends and family gathered for Christmas Eve celebrations, brick-and-block mason Jim Kron hit a gas-tanker head on and almost lost his life. His injuries from the car accident rendered him unable to perform his job, and after a few months of recovery he spent the next 13 years struggling to redefine his career path and bring in a steady income for himself and his wife.

“I went from making very good money to welfare in just a few years,” Kron said.

To add to Kron’s worries, his wife developed a severe case of lung cancer that required frequent, costly medical attention.

“With no insurance, we just about lost it all,” he said.

Now, as a participant in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Laboratory Technology Program, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, he knows he has a good foot in the door for the kind of career he has been wanting. With the technical skills he is gaining at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, he said he would like to become a part of the U.S. Department of Energy workforce and acquire a position in the carbon fiber technology field.

Kron discovered the Lab Tech program during a job fair at Roane State Community College, where he completed the Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC) program—a no-cost, high-tech training program intended for underemployed candidates to develop a competitive edge in lean manufacturing and machining.

“The Laboratory Technology Program serves as an excellent opportunity,” he said. “My favorite part about being a lab technician is the stability of the job, learning new skills and knowing I could be part of a major breakthrough in the carbon fiber field.”

Because of carbon fiber’s strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance, high stiffness and low thermal expansion, it is considered more frequently for uses in aerospace, aviation, civil engineering, military and other industries, especially as an option to replace steel.

ORNL received a grant to build the $35 million Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, located in Oak Ridge’s Horizon Center Business Park. The facility began operations in 2013 and aims to produce 25 metric tons of carbon fiber a year. To realize this goal, Kron helps ORNL carbon fiber researchers identify the best materials to derive the carbon fiber from.

“Jim Kron has spun fibers from various types of lignin,” said Dr. Amit Naskar, a research and development staff member in the polymer matrix composite group at ORNL. “Lignin is a renewable material and is used extensively for carbonaceous materials.”

According to Kron’s mentor, Connie Jackson, operations manager for the carbon fiber facility, Kron already has become an extremely proficient research support technician in Naskar’s lab.

“Kron’s story demonstrates that highly intelligent people do not always have an advanced education and should not be overlooked as a valuable workforce resource,” said Jackson.

Kron said he is very excited to be involved in the carbon fiber technology field in its early stages, and he looks forward to the future.

“I envision myself being a leader at a carbon fiber manufacturing facility,” he said. “I feel my experiences in the program will give me the knowledge, skills, and abilities to achieve that goal.”

Aside from the program, Kron continues to do small masonry projects on the side and spends as much time as possible with his wife, whose cancer is currently inactive, outdoors, and with his dog. He is also actively involved in a Native American group that meets monthly.

What is his life advice? “Family comes first. Cherish the time you have, because life can change in an instant.”

Participant Profile

Rick Chambers

Lab Tech participant says bad times do not last forever

When Rick Chambers unexpectedly found himself jobless after 35 years of employment, he completed a free manufacturing training program and gained the skills needed to succeed in the Laboratory Technology Program at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at ORNL.

Did you know?

According to a study conducted by Lucintel for the American Composites Manufacturers Association, worldwide demand for carbon fiber by 2017 could increase by about three times the existing annual demand.

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