How three Colorado manufacturers are developing, not buying, qualified employees | Company Week

Most manufacturers have an addiction problem. They are addicted to purchasing rather than developing their workforce. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most manufacturers have already taken the first step to recovery. They have admitted they have a skills gap problem.

In last week’s article, we outlined how manufacturers can push past that first recovery step by taking advantage of several opportunities to narrow their skills gaps. This week, we’ll provide a support system that is crucial to any successful recovery. We’ll highlight three Colorado manufacturers — Intertech Plastics, Wright & McGill Co, and Mountainside Medical — that have struggled with their skills gaps and now see light at the end of the tunnel thanks to some new strategies.

Intertech Plastics is one of Colorado’s largest plastic injection molders. They specialize in turnkey solutions for high-volume customers. Over the past few years, Intertech has been unable to consistently fill skilled positions from Colorado’s labor pool. The company has resorted to purchasing talent from Texas and the Midwest. Given the high costs of relocation, it hopes that this is a stopgap measure. The company’s long-term plan is to build a deeper and broader Colorado talent pool so it doesn’t have to look elsewhere to acquire a skilled workforce.

Interactive facility tours are one element of this long-term plan. Intertech typically organizes three facility tours for high school students each semester. Students are split into groups of three and rotate between the Quality Lab, Tool Room, and Production Department. The Quality Lab is always a hit since students get to conduct the “Drop Test” with plastic totes. Employees at each station connect with the students by discussing their own career paths. Intertech targets 9th and 10th graders since this age group is old enough to appreciate manufacturing operations, but not so old that they have a chosen career path. Exposing kids to high-paying, upwardly mobile manufacturing careers is just one of the benefits of organizing facility tours. Ryan Gensler, Intertech’s Marketing Manger, adds that “interacting with the students reenergizes our employees and reminds them why they got into manufacturing in the first place.”

Wright & McGill Co has a long and storied history in Colorado. Founded in 1925, the company has manufactured fish hooks in Denver for over 90 years. Its well-known Eagle Claw hooks are the only fish hooks still “Made in the USA.” As Wright & McGill approaches its centennial, the company is preoccupied with the impending retirement of a substantial portion of its workforce. The magnitude of the skills gap become readily apparent as it accelerated recruitment efforts to prepare for these retirements. According to Human Resources Manager Dee Untch, the company is “concerned with the current skills gap and its effect on staffing the manufacturing facility now and in years to come.”

Having not had much luck recruiting at school job fairs, the folks at Wright & McGill decided to offer a more immersive experience to catch promising job candidates. This summer, the company will host two Production Department interns through Denver Public Schools’ CareerLaunch program. Daily tasks for the interns will include monitoring machine output and quality, as well as entering production quantities into the company’s ERP system. Interns will also apply their problem solving skills to an ongoing scrap reduction initiative. “We expect internships to play a key role in our staffing strategy going forward,” says Dee. “Not only do the internships address the skills gap but in the long run they will increase retention and lower overall recruiting costs.”

Mountainside Medical is a contract manufacturer of tight-tolerance medical components. Last year, their management team decided that registered apprenticeship was the solution to high turnover with CNC machinists. The program that Mountainside Medical developed has put a new and innovative spin on the traditional apprenticeship model. First, the pay structure is competency-based rather than time-based. There are 10 wage tiers, each corresponding to a set of machining competencies. Over the course of the program, apprentices progress through the wage tiers as they are able to demonstrated more advanced skills. Second, the training is aligned with NIMS standards. This structure benefits both apprentice and company. Apprentices will earn NIMS credentials in addition to the U.S. Department of Labor certificate they receive upon completing the program. The alignment with NIMS also insulates Mountainside Medical from a potential conflict of interest. Having a reputable third party assess the apprentice’s skill level ensures that the progression through the wage tiers is transparent and unbiased.

For help with your company’s skills gap recovery, please contact Andrew Palmer.

Tim Heaton is president of CAMA. Reach Tim at tim@fourfrontco.com.