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Careers & Workforce

Mary Andringa of Vermeer Industries: Emphasizing STEM Education

  • April 15, 2015

Even as President and CEO of a global company, Vermeer Industries, Mary Andringa has never lost sight of her early-career roots as a teacher. She is a longtime, passionate advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, which prepares young people for promising and rewarding careers. Fortune magazine named her to the STEMconnector® List of 100 CEO Leaders in STEM in 2013.

Moreover, it’s never too early to begin orienting young people to STEM disciplines. Vermeer, along with Bright Horizons, has established an academy called the Yellow Iron Academy in Pella, Iowa. It is one of five schools to receive the inaugural seal of approval from the STEM Advisory Council to the Governor of Iowa.

The academy won the awards for their Math Counts and Science Rocks programs. It serves 112 children, from pre-school to school-age. Parents are very excited about Yellow Iron Academy’s creative approach to early STEM education.  

The reference to “Yellow Iron” reflects the branded colors of the equipment made by Vermeer. The privately held company manufactures equipment that serves the agriculture, biomass, wood-waste recycling, landscaping, surface mining, and utility installation industries. This equipment serves a variety of industries, but shares one thing in common: It helps people perform important work more efficiently and safely.

By selling this equipment to global markets, Vermeer helps local leaders and businesses around the world improve the quality of life for populations who then benefit from lower food prices, improvements in electricity service reliability, or more affordable forms of clean energy in their home communities.   

Vermeer is rightly proud of the work that its employees do. A case in point came in early 2015 when Vermeer was selected for the International Mining Hall of Fame for the surface-mining technologies developed by the company’s engineers. Vermeer makes a machine, introduced in 2002, called the Terrain Leveler ® that uses an industry-exclusive tilting cover drum so as to eliminate the need for primary crushers, large loaders, and huge mining haul trucks. Given the efficiencies it provides, the award-winning machine is still in widespread use today. And it’s an example of the type of technology that can be developed by those with backgrounds in the STEM disciplines.

Vermeer is also a leader in the implementation of lean manufacturing. It has been a long-term company focus that started at the top, and has engaged all levels of the organization, with positive results.

In December 2015, Mary turns over the President and CEO reins to her son, Jason. But there are no coronations based on blood lines at Vermeer. Executives are held to strict performance goals and evaluations, which figure heavily into any advancement decisions. Meanwhile, Mary, who is a past Chair of the National Association of Manufacturers, will continue to advocate for STEM education and other causes important to manufacturing.

Wyoming Machine: At this Woman-Owned Business, Staff Development Comes First

  • April 11, 2015

People are often surprised to learn that manufacturing offers great career opportunities for women, from the executive suite to the plant floor. Traci and Lori Tapani are co-CEOs of Wyoming Machine Inc. in Wyoming, Minnesota. The precision sheet-metal fabricating company has about 55 employees.

In a recent media report, Traci said, “My greatest source of pride is staff development. For the past 20 years, I’m most proud of my ability to serve as a role model for women. I love showing women that they, too, can succeed in a male-dominated career. Watching employees and others accomplish this is exceptionally rewarding for me.”

Traci is a recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) award, which recognizes women who have demonstrated excellence and exercised leadership in manufacturing careers. In addition to her leadership role at Wyoming Machine, he is involved in mentoring problems, and has brought attention to the skills shortage through her public speaking.

Wyoming Machine also understands that job applicants may not walk in the door with all skills needed to perform a job. By evaluating an applicant’s work history and previous training, the company is able to determine if the applicant has the aptitude to learn to do the necessary work. That can mean hiring candidates with unconventional backgrounds. For example, one recent hire came with a background in automated food preparation at McDonalds.

Traci and Lori have co-led the company since 2000. Its services include laser cutting, CNC punching, press brake forming, welding, and machining. Despite fierce global competition, they have grown the company by an average of 6 percent yearly since then.

One example of Wyoming Machine’s work is a mounting plate for a flight simulator that was commissioned by a computer and peripherals company. The company cuts, forms, welds, grinds, machines, and assembles the mounting plates, all to specific tolerances. The customer now orders 50 such assemblies per year.

With women as owners and as plant-floor equipment operators, Wyoming Machine is a great example of women in manufacturing.

Talan Products: Employee Involvement Key to Company Culture

  • April 9, 2015

Talan Products is a highly respected metal-stamping and metal-forming company with about 55 employees on the west side of Cleveland. Founded in 1986, Talan now operates 24 presses, and specializes in providing defect-free stamped metal parts with tight tolerances at high-volume production rates for customers in the fastener, building products, hardware, appliance, defense and automotive markets.  

The company is passionate about hearing from their company’s employees on a broad range of topics. Twice each year, Talan holds a series of CEO Roundtable meetings where small groups of eight to ten employees can discuss any topic with Peplin. Enough meetings are scheduled so that every employee has a chance to participate in each round of meetings. 

The roundtables have yielded constructive suggestions ranging from matters related to products and processes to employee training and the company culture. Equally important, employees value the opportunity to share ideas and simply to be heard. Given the company’s Design for Manufacturability philosophy, the meetings help ensure that valuable input from the plant floor does not go unheard.

In today’s manufacturing environment, companies like Talan Products that engage their workforce through programs like the CEO Roundtables are making full use of their valuable human resources.

The Manufacturing Institute: Addressing the Skills Gap

  • January 15, 2015

In the early 1990s, Labor Secretary William Brock commissioned a report that projected shortages of high-skill workers in the coming decades. The report’s projections proved accurate. Today, the skills shortage is a real challenge facing U.S. manufacturers of all sizes.

According to The Manufacturing Institute, the education and research arm of the NAM, 82 percent of executives think the skills gap will hurt their ability to meet customer demands. As the baby boom generation continues to retire, the gap could result in two million unfilled jobs.

The shortage is real. It now typically takes 90 days to recruit engineers, researchers, and scientists. Job applicants often lack the math, computer, technology, and problem-solving skills needed for advanced manufacturing jobs. Access to high-skill foreign workers is unwittingly hampered by short-sighted federal limits on H 1B visas. Even the companies that are most creative in filling vacancies admit that the skill shortage is real.

The Institute is implementing an assertive multi-point strategy that promises to move the needle on this long-term challenge. A skills-gap solution must focus on youngsters entering the workforce, as well as retraining current workers, continuing to engage women in manufacturing, and welcoming veterans into the industrial workforce.

One priority is skills training. The Institute launched the Skills Certification System to advance a renaissance of manufacturing education nationwide. Standards are designed by and for industry, and endorsed by the NAM.

Since 2011, a total of 419,528 certifications have been presented to individuals for skills including machining-and-metalworking, welding, construction, automation, die casting, fabrication, fluid power, lean, quality, logistics, engineering, and other skills. Employers can hire these individuals with confidence in the skills they bring to the workplace.

There is a great need to reach young people with positive messages about manufacturing careers.

As Ray Bacon, president of the Nevada Manufacturers Association notes, young people can accumulate the right skills and knowledge, but manufacturers and educators must do a better job of inspiring young people to choose careers in manufacturing.

The Manufacturing Institute agrees. Research indicates that only 3 out of 10 parents encourage their children to pursuer manufacturing careers, and that Gen Y respondents rank manufacturing last as a career choice, according to the Institute.

To respond, on Manufacturing Day each October, the Institute partners with manufacturers to bring students into advanced-manufacturing workplaces to see first-hand how workers deploy technology, enjoy challenging work in clean environments, and create cutting-edge products. The tours also educate teachers, and generate positive press coverage that can shape public opinion.

The Dream It. Do It. careers initiative reinforces that message at the local level all year long, and encourages students to study math and science to prepare themselves for exciting career options.

To highlight the rewarding careers manufacturing offers women, the Institute presents the annual STEP awards, where 130 women in manufacturing honorees and emerging leaders are recognized. This again calls attention to attractive career opportunities.

The Institute also teamed up with Deloitte on a report titled, “2015 Women in Manufacturing Study: Exploring the Skills Gap.” Noting that women make up 47 percent of the workforce, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce, the study offers valuable recommendations for increasing women’s participation in manufacturing.

To learn more about The Manufacturing Institute and its initiatives, click here.

Polaris Industries: Popular Products, Major Employer

  • January 7, 2015

As every outdoors enthusiast knows, Polaris Industries is the manufacturer of premier snowmobiles, motorcycles, and all terrain vehicles. What people may not realize is that Polaris is a major manufacturing employer not only Minnesota, where it is based, but also in Iowa, where it has about 1,250 additional employees. (Other Minnesota-based Great Manufacturing Stories include RTP Company, Wyoming Machine, Andersen Windows, Shutterfly Inc., and Donaldson Company.)

The company headquarters is in Medina, just outside of Minneapolis. Roseau, Minnesota, not far from the Canadian border, is not only the birthplace of Polaris Industries, but also of the sport of snowmobiling, dating back to 1954. Snowmobile R&D and manufacturing, as well as plastic injection molding, continues in Roseau. A LEED certified R&D facility opened in 2005 in Wyoming, Minnesota. GEM electric vehicles are developed in nearby Osceola. The worldwide distribution center is in Vermillion, South Dakota.

In Iowa, Polaris manufactures products from a converted ice factory in Spirit Lake, and a former Stylecraft furniture center in Milford. The Slingshot line of three-wheel motorcycles, introduced in 2014, has been spectacularly well received, keeping the factory and its employees busy.

Modern manufacturing is more efficient than ever, but it still provides high-quality jobs for those with the right skills (especially when the company continually improves its products through faithful investments in R&D, and upgrades its plants to remain state-of-the-art). Polaris Industries is a great example, and is therefore another Great Manufacturing Story.  

AMERICAN Cast Iron Pump Company: Hall of Fame Quality Engineering

  • November 13, 2014

Have you ever wondered where those ubiquitous fire hydrants on city streets come from?

Many are manufactured by a company called American Cast Iron Pipe Company, also known as ACIPCO, and by its subsidiary company, Waterous.

ACIPCO was founded in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama, where it continues to be the city’s largest private-sector employer. The founder was a devout Christian, John Eaghan, who believed pipes were the solution to delivering clean water to millions of people. Eaghan also was a leader in introducing shorter work weeks, overtime pay, health insurance, retirement benefits, and onsite medical care.

Today, there are 1,600 workers in Birmingham, and about 1,000 more at other plants in the U.S. and Brazil. The Birmingham plant is the world’s largest ductile-iron pipe producing plant, and has been inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame. ACIPCO was the first North American maker of ductile pipes to achieve ISO 9000 certification for product quality.

Meanwhile, by acquiring other well-established fluid-control manufacturers, ACIPCO now has a broad product line and several production centers.

Many of the fire hydrants and valves are made in Beaumont, Texas. There is a castings plant in Oklahoma, a pipe plant in South Carolina, a rubber products facility also in Alabama, and the Waterous Company plant in Minnesota. Now an ACIPCO subsidiary, Waterous was relocated to St. Paul in 1886 and made the first-gas-engine driven fire pump. Today, Waterous makes vehicle-mounted and portable fire pumps, foam systems, water hydrants, and valves.  

Bison Gear and Engineering: A National Leader in Innovation and Workforce Development

  • May 21, 2014

Right Angle Gearmotors

Railroad gates, combine harvesters, surgical pumps, mobility scooters, beverage dispensers, coffee roasters, routing equipment, and assembly lines all have at least one thing in common: They customarily rely on gearmotor technology to power their operation.

One of the world’s most innovative designers and manufacturers of gearmotor technology is Bison Gear and Engineering, which is based in St. Charles, Illinois, about 40 miles west of Chicago. Bison, which was founded in 1950, serves customers across North America and around the world.

The company has about 260 employees, roughly one-third of which are engineers. Casual observers might be surprised to learn that more than half of the gearmotor products it ships are custom-designed. Bison uses a “design blitz” process that features unusually fast turnaround of proposals, efficient scheduling of all processes including engineering, and an engaged staff that focuses intently on customers’ unique applications and needs. This custom prototying and design blitz process is so effective that it was recognized by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence in late 2013.

Bison began adopting lean manufacturing in 2000, and quickly benefited from that commitment. Productivity increased. Time lost to accidents decreased. Today, all of Bison runs on lean principles – from product development to the assembly line. This allows the firm to develop solutions quickly, provide products to customers at highly competitive prices, and continually refine and improve their internal processes.

The late Ron Bullock, the company's longtime CEO, was an evangelist for careers in manufacturing, and the need to equip current and future workers with the advanced skills needed in the manufacturing industry. He advanced that message through his work in several leadership capacities for the NAM, its workforce development arm (The Manufacturing Institute), and the Illinois Manufacturers Association. Moreover, he also pioneered the Manufacturers Education Initiative, a comprehensive approach to preparing students and adults for careers in advanced manufacturing that is now widely used in Illinois.

It is particularly instructive to see how Bison Gear, itself, has approached workforce development. It starts with the recognition that its employees are the heart of the company. Bison employs a Chief Learning Officer to oversee the development of the company’s workforce. Job applicants are evaluated through an on-site skills assessment called ACT WorkKeys. Applicants must achieve level four scores in all categories before being considered for open positions.

Bison also encourages production employees to continually enhance their skills through the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council’s training-and-testing program. Bison pays for employees to take the self-directed, online learning courses, which cover safety, quality, maintenance, and processes/production. Each module typically requires 15 to 18 hours of self-study. Employees receive cash awards and internal recognition for completing modules and for becoming certified. The company also offers a program called GEAR (Growth Education and Results) that financially supports employees who seek college degrees related to their jobs or career path at Bison.

This emphasis on skills standards and continuous learning is coupled with an onsite fitness center and wellness program that helps employees pursue a healthy work-life balance.

Bison works closely with educators and skills standard board colleagues to ensure that course offerings and workforce programs are as closely aligned as possible to the workforce needs of the manufacturing community.

In the meantime, Bison continues to develop and produce innovative, high-quality products that meet their customers’ rapidly evolving needs. It is a formula for enduring success and a Great Manufacturing Story.

Austin Polytech High School: Helping Students Gain Certifications and Understand Career Options

  • January 12, 2014

The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council established Austin Polytech Academy in 2007. What makes this career-prep school a Great Manufacturing Story? Its committed purpose is to educate the next generation of advanced manufacturing leaders. At a time when some students get diplomas without ever being exposed to modern manufacturing and the careers it offers, Austin Polytech students are introduced to the full array of careers available in industry, from skilled production and engineering to entrepreneurship and even intellectual property law.

The school, located on the west side of Chicago, has partnerships with 60 industry partners. Companies like DeCardy Diecasting, WaterSaver Faucet Co., Freedman Seating, Phoenix Closures, Zenith Manufacturing, Johnson Controls, and many others have teamed up with the school in a variety of ways, ranging from plant tours to internships to guest speakers and in-kind donations. The insight and knowledge students receive from the curriculum, as supported by the corporate involvement, is of great value as they plan and begin their careers in today’s competitive workplace. Austin Polytech also offers adult training that leads to computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining credentials.

One example of a manufacturer that is committed to, and grateful for, the program, is Matrix Tooling, Inc., based in Wood Dale, Illinois. The company, whose customer base includes medical-device manufacturers, sometimes finds it difficult to locate the skilled workers it needs for its operations, and is concerned about where its next generation of employees will come from. To help spark student interest in advanced manufacturing, Matrix has teamed with Austin Polytech to expose students to its advanced microcutter device that is used to remove tissues during surgery. Instructors at Austin Polytech indicate that when students see first-hand that they can prepare to work on products that make a difference in people’s lives, and earn a quality wage in the process, their eyes are opened wide to the promise of careers in advanced manufacturing. More than 150 of its students have already earned National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification, which is impressive for a school that was only launched seven short years ago.

Kellie Johnson of ACE Clearwater Enterprises: Passionate about Manufacturing Careers

  • January 6, 2014

The first thing you notice when you talk with Kellie Johnson and her husband Gary Johnson at one of their manufacturing facilities is their passion for manufacturing and the careers that it offers. Kellie is the President of ACE Clearwater Enterprises in Torrance, California, and Gary serves as Vice President of the company, which is a recognized leader in complex formed and welded assemblies for the aerospace industry.

 “I have been able to continue my family’s legacy as a third-generation manufacturer, and serve the aerospace industry, where the United States remains a global leader,” Kellie says. “We are very proud to offer amazing career paths, and we devote a lot of energy to helping people understand the career opportunities that modern manufacturing offers.”

The company was founded in 1961. Kellie joined the business in 1984, just two years out of college, and worked in all areas of the enterprise. She became President in 1989. Under her leadership, the company has grown to roughly 200 employees, operating from three facilities in southern California that offer 400,000 square feet of manufacturing technology. Their customer list is a “Who’s Who” in aerospace:  Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, NorthropGrumman, Boeing, General Electric, Cessna, Pratt & Whitney, and the U.S. government, among others.

ACE Clearwater is certified to the highest international quality standards, and is accredited in numeric data control and welding. It has received the Boeing Supplier of the Year award and was named by Industry Week as one of America’s Top 25 Small Manufacturers.

Exceptional Career Opportunities. On October 4, 2013, when manufacturing firms across the country celebrated National Manufacturing Day in their own communities, Kellie and Gary were in the forefront of those efforts in southern California. About 200 students got an up-close look at high-tech manufacturing at AceClearwater. They received a tour of a plant and watched intently as an engineer used a 3-D laser to slice a C-17 aircraft duct part, performing in a minute a cut that used to take an hour with older technology.  

Since fewer students receive career-technical education in high school these days, it is often left to manufacturers to showcase available career paths. Kellie speaks often about careers, and her firm promotes internship programs by working with community colleges and universities. In addition, Kellie sponsors three FIRST robotics teams, including one all-female team.

Like many manufacturers, ACE Clearwater not infrequently finds it difficult to find applicants with the advanced skills needed in today’s manufacturing. This national trend will become even more pronounced as a generation of skilled workers from the Baby Boom generation retires.

3-D Animation’s Role in Knowledge Transfer. To get ahead of the aging-workforce trend and improve knowledge transfer, ACE Clearwater is taking the lead in using 3-D animation to make complex information-sharing more efficient and reliable. 3-D animation can model, preserve and teach a complex manufacturing process – such as mastering the operation of a massive metal drop hammer with unique settings for each job -- more effectively than hand-written notes. This can provide Chief Learning Officers with better ways to teach complex processes and retain institutional knowledge.

Gary explains that the tools are modeled in 3-D software packages like Blender and Maya, which are already widely used in the gaming and entertainment industries. Their video production group, Dash 9 Productions, helps manufacturers deploy 3-D animation for their own knowledge-transfer purposes.

Advocate for Manufacturing. Kellie is a prominent advocate for manufacturing at the national and state levels. She has served on the Manufacturing Council by appointment of two Secretaries of Commerce (Carlos Gutierrez and Gary Locke) and in 2007 was selected by the Defense Department to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, where she visited Central Command in the Middle East. She is a past Chair of the Small and Medium Manufacturers of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and is on the Board of The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s research and education affiliate. She has also testified before Congress on behalf of manufacturers.

NAM President Jay Timmons said, “Kellie is a leading high-tech manufacturer and one of the brightest and most compelling voices on behalf of the 12 million men and women who make things in America.  She is a consummate communicator and energetic advocate for manufacturers of all sectors and sizes—a tireless spokesperson and highly effective in Washington.”

Timmons added, “Through her leadership roles at the NAM, Kellie has strengthened the association by helping to tell the story of manufacturing in America through visuals and videos, which is transforming the perception of our industry.”

At the state level, Kellie has chaired several manufacturing and technology groups, and received a number of prestigious awards. She hosted then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at ACE Clearwater and discussed with him the need for sound public policies, as well.

Investing for the Future. To meet its customers’ high-precision requirements, ACE Clearwater invests not only in its workforce but also in state-of-the-art equipment. It purchased six large machining centers in recent years at a cost of several million dollars, and in 2012 installed a nine-foot Faro Arm for portable inspection of form dies and large assemblies without disrupting production. More equipment was purchased in 2013, including a 3D printer, to support R&D activities. And Gary is one of 4,000 people in the nation selected to test Google Glass.

The company also emphasizes sustainability, in terms of energy efficiency, recycling, smart packaging solutions, and the use of organic fluids like vegetable oil in their machines. That commitment to investing for the future and protecting the environment is just another way that ACE Clearwater Enterprises constitutes a Great Manufacturing Story.

Bert Miller of Phoenix Closures: Advocate for Job Creation

  • December 25, 2013

Some of America’s small and mid-size manufacturers can trace their roots back more than 100 years. An example is Phoenix Closures, based in Naperville, Illinois, which designs and manufactures plastic lids for products like Jif peanut butter, Nestea powdered drink, Coffee Mate creamer, Taster’s Choice coffee, and Hershey’s single-serving milk, along with many cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and other products.

The company’s origins date back to 1890, when a Civil War veteran named John Giles founded a business making glass jars. Three years later, he expanded into manufacturing caps. A subsequent merger in 1911 with the Phoenix Cap Company out of New York formed the foundation of today’s Phoenix Closures.

Phoenix introduced the modern continuous-thread cap in 1922, the pulp-and-glassine liner system in the 1930s, and the AccuSeal sealing system in 2001. Yet, many of their patents have been awarded just within the last five years. The company likes to say that innovation at Phoenix Closures is a process, not an event.

Phoenix Closures operates four manufacturing facilities and one stand-alone warehouse. They also have a representative in Great Britain who facilitates exports to Europe. Their newest plant, opened in 2012, is in Greencastle, Indiana. The building previously had been an auto-parts stamping plant. Phoenix Closures took advantage of the existing crane bay and rail access, but otherwise redeveloped the 250,000 square foot building completely to accommodate their equipment and employees.

Bert Miller, who until recently was the company’s longtime CEO, has been a dedicated advocate for manufacturing and for policies conducive to job creation. He is a past chair of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, a Board member of the National Association of Manufacturers, and the 2007 recipient of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Entrepreneur of the Year honor.

Workforce development has been a priority, and not long ago, Phoenix Closures was honored in Indiana with a WorkOne Achievement Award for its dedication to creating job opportunities. Those efforts are particularly appreciated in the Hoosier state, where unemployment has been persistently high in recent years.

Meanwhile, Phoenix Closures will continue to innovate and meet the needs of its customers. So the next time you remove the plastic lid from a jar of peanut butter or other product, know that there is a good chance it was made by the folks at Phoenix Closures, drawing on their 124 years in the business.