Focus on the Workforce: A Two-Pronged Approach to Developing the Next-Generation Workforce
By Bill Weier
Human Resource Manager
MAG IAS LLC
What does it take to interest young people in a career in manufacturing? It’s a challenge all of us in this industry face, especially in light of an aging workforce and an educational system that places little emphasis on technical careers. For MAG IAS LLC the answer is to enable high school graduates to envision rewarding, long-term careers with our company, rather than viewing manufacturing as providing mere old-school jobs.
To make this happen MAG invests in two types of workforce development programs. One is an apprenticeship and cooperative education program that combines classroom and workplace experiences. The other consists of the company’s Future Leaders and Accelerated Leadership programs that focus on developing the potentials of current employees. Each program plays a key role in giving individuals the chance to achieve the careers they desire while building the committed, skilled workforce essential for the company’s growth.
One of the drivers for developing these programs is MAG’s own workforce. As a technology leader in the machine tool and composites industries, the company is fortunate to have a substantial number of long-term employees with an impressive range of capabilities and application experiences. Although we hope that many will be with us for years to come, realistically we know some will soon retire. So now is the time for them to use this critical knowledge to mentor the next generation.
We developed the apprenticeship program as the foundation of this effort in 2007, recognizing that high schools are simply not equipped to deliver the level of skill and technical sophistication our industry requires. Of course, apprenticeships were once common in many trades and, in fact, our own company has a history of such programs. These days we find the apprenticeship concept is a good fit with MAG’s philosophy of combining formal education with workplace experience under the guidance of knowledgeable, long-term employees.
Fundamentally, the apprenticeship program provides a new hire with a paycheck for on-the-job training, while the company also pays for classroom education. While in the program an employee typically works a 40-hr week and takes college classes at night. For example, MAG partners with Gateway Community & Technical College in Florence, KY, where students take technical, general education, and management classes to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology. Our expectation is that the apprentice will then require three to five years of on-the-job training and mentoring to develop the competency necessary to assume the responsibilities of a retiring employee. This program was recently featured in an NBC Nightly News "America at the Crossroads" report (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/vp/41838919#41858510), demonstrating that finding and training the next generation of manufacturing workers is an issue of national interest.
MAG’s investment for each apprentice to earn a degree is $200,000, which includes tuition, salary and benefits. The company also donated equipment, including a vertical machining center, to Gateway for use in its machining labs. To help protect this investment, we require that the apprentice commit to continuing employment with MAG for a minimum of two years after receiving the degree. Otherwise he or she must repay the tuition cost.
MAG also has had cooperative education programs with a number of four-year colleges, including the University of Cincinnati, University of Louisville, University of Dayton, University of Kentucky, and Miami University (Oxford, OH). The co-op program has turned out more than 50 current MAG employees, including a director of engineering, a vice president and the president of MAG Americas, Bill Horwarth.
In addition to these US-based programs, MAG offers training opportunities and sponsorship at many international universities. Also, MAG executives guest lecture at the University of Karlsruhe (Germany) and Jilin University-Lambton College (Changchun, China).
The Gateway Community College program is unusual in that we participated in developing a curriculum that includes more lab hours than the typical four-year schools offer. MAG also helped develop a course sequence that is more technician-oriented and seamlessly integrates with our on-the-job training process.
Simply having an apprenticeship program doesn’t ensure that qualified candidates will be knocking on your door. MAG uses a number of recruitment channels to identify potential apprentices. We visit area high schools, attend job fairs and post program information on our Web site. In addition, Gateway Community & Technical College uses MAG literature to inform their current students and those in their early placement program of the opportunity.
We also actively recruit US military personnel whose enlistments are ending. Not only have many of these veterans received technical training while in the service, they also typically possess such desirable traits as dependability, accountability, and maturity. One such military hire is a former Navy enlisted man who came to us with six years of experience in jet engine repair. After a period of education on MAG products and processes, he will become part of the succession plan for the company’s aerospace business.
Our human resources department screens each applicant and passes candidates on to the manufacturing leadership. We also have Gateway assess each candidate’s ability and interest in learning as they move into the final selection process. The number of apprentices hired annually is a function of the overall investment plan for that year. Our 2011 budget provides funding for six apprenticeships.
The early results of the apprenticeship program are encouraging, and we’ve learned some important lessons along the way. We currently have six individuals enrolled in the program, and we’re pleased that our first wave of apprentices scheduled to graduate in May 2011 have all been accepted into the National Technical Honor Society.
From a practical standpoint, we’ve already seen these apprentices make positive contributions to various aspects of our business, including laser measurement, CMM inspection and a number of product builds. Moreover, they bring a higher level of skill sets and understanding of our products and methods than one could expect from a traditional new hire. Equally important, they have the opportunity to be mentored by more experienced employees and develop workplace relationships that will serve them well throughout their careers.
The two other MAG workforce development initiatives—Future Leaders and Accelerated Leadership—are populated with existing company employees. Future Leaders are identified by supervisors as individuals demonstrating above average performance and having the potential to move into management positions. These employees are invited to participate in a one-year, structured program that includes both classroom and workplace training in all aspects of the company including manufacturing, engineering, supply chain, and more. The process includes creating a personal development plan that is consistent with the needs of the company and the individual’s career aspirations. Each participant works with a coach who will provide support, objective feedback, and guidance.
The Accelerated Leadership program works in a similar fashion for those employees assessed to have the potential to eventually assume executive-level positions within MAG. Additionally, the company offers tuition assistance to any employee who wishes to earn a degree in a qualified technical area. One such example is the Cincinnati State College two-year program for an Associate degree in electronics.
This combination of providing formal education, on-the-job mentoring and programs that encourage employee advancement make MAG an attractive career option for young people. It also enables us to leverage the valuable knowledge and experience of our long-term workers who, in turn, enjoy the pride and satisfaction of educating those who will carry on their tradition of manufacturing excellence. ME
This article was first published in the June 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.