Members in the News

    Factory Careers Are Where It's At

    Cincinnati Enquirer 
    January 27, 2015 
    By: Mike Boyer 
    [TTMA Members Featured]

    Local manufacturers are revving up efforts to attract the region' youngest workers to high-tech factory jobs of the future: Increasingly, they're offering high-school kids job-shadowing opportunities, scholarships and apprenticeships where students split time between work and school.

    Batavia-based Milacron Inc. has launched a Facebook link and Twitter feed to tout the benefits of manufacturing careers, and this week launched its first class of five high-school co-op students.

    In Northern Kentucky, manufacturers working with Gateway Community and Technical College and a $65,000 state grant are developing a marketing plan to chart career paths for promising high school and college students.

    And on May 16, the European-American Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati will use its day-long annual conference to explore ways that European apprenticeship models can attract young workers here.

    Even before President Barack Obama appealed in his State of the Union address for new ways to create manufacturing jobs, local companies have been doing just that.

    "After increasing flight services at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the most critical issue for European-based companies looking to expand here is the availability of human capital," said Ann Cappel, executive director of the European-American chamber. It represents 250 European-based companies employing 30,000 in the region.

    A steady increase in factory orders post-recession and the coming retirements of thousands of older workers are creating an urgency to recruit new workers. More than 9,000 local factory jobs were added last year, accounting for more than half the 16,000 new jobs created in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

    The challenge is that few of the large numbers of unemployed job seekers possess the high-tech skills to operate complex, computer-driven machinery in factories today.

    Short-term, employers have to find qualified workers to fill immediate job openings. Long-term, they say they must start now to educate the youngest would-be workers, dispelling old notions that factory work is dead-end and dirty, if they're to compete long-term in the world.

    "We have to go out and proactively drive worker education and begin espousing the benefits of manufacturing careers," said Dennis Smith, CEO of privately held Milacron. He says finding skilled, younger workers is a chronic challenge, especially since the average age of the nearly 800 workers at Milacron' area plants is over 50.

    Milacron adding jobs

    Milacron, which traces its roots back more than a century in Greater Cincinnati, added more than 120 jobs last year to produce machines that make plastic parts for consumer and industrial goods. Smith said the company expects to add 70 to 90 jobs this year.

    "The last couple years we've been gaining traction in our business. We've had great success in gaining market share. We need people to produce that extra production," Smith said.

    He said the company is working to expand its co-op program and hopes to eventually re-establish an apprenticeship training abandoned years ago.

    Josh Turner, 18, from Amelia and a senior in manufacturing technology at Live Oaks Career Campus in Milford, is a co-op student working part-time at Milacron. He spends several hours a day there learning how to operate sophisticated machines.

    "I'm learning a lot. It' interesting to see for real, what we're learning about in school," Turner said. He' earning $11.50 an hour and gaining experience that will help him land a good job after high school and possibly pursue college.

    Milacon also is funding $1,000 annual scholarships to each of 10 new employees to help advance their educations. It also launched a website, touting manufacturing careers at the company with employee testimonials. Smith said Milacron got several promising resumes from potential hires in the website' first two days alone.

    Developing the pipeline

    Downtown-based Partnership for a Competitive Workforce is working with 50 employers in Northern Kentucky and Gateway Community and Technical College to develop pipelines of young people interested in manufacturing.

    To fill immediate needs, companies like machine tool builder Mazak Corp. in Florence are implementing short-term training "boot camps" to enhance math, reading and other skills of workers so they can eventually qualify for higher skilled training.

    The Tri-State Tooling and Manufacturing Association, which represents more than 50 area metal working companies, likewise is increasing its promotion of a job-shadowing program for high school students.

    General Tool in Reading has hosted about two dozen juniors and seniors annually for the past few years from the Great Oaks Careers Campuses. Students, selected by instructors, spend a couple hours a day shadowing a General Tool employee doing different jobs in machining, engineering and maintenance.

    General Tool also has opened itself to tours for 8th- and 9th-graders and their parents to demonstrate what today' manufacturing is all about.

    "We want to show them that manufacturing has become more technical, and our shops are clean, well lit and that we are making great products and doing exciting things," said Joy Cariaga, administrator of the manufacturing association who also oversees job shadowing at General Tool.

    Apprentice programs get a look

    Formal apprenticeship programs popular in Europe also are getting a new look here. They typically combine full-time work and part-time education over four years, leading to certification in a specific trade such as tool and die maker.

    Apprenticeships, used extensively in U.S. building construction trades, fell out of favor in manufacturing over the past few decades as the industry' employment declined. The programs also are expensive, and companies risk losing their best workers, once trained, to other employers offering more money.

    John Baines, president of German-based Hahn Automation employing 40 in Boone County, said European companies begin recruiting students at age 15 for apprenticeship training ranging from tool and die making to office management.

    Apprentices typically divide their time between school and hands-on job experience that starts with simple projects that get increasingly complex as they progress. That allows the apprentices to learn both the practical and theoretical basis for the trades they're pursuing.

    Baines, president of the European-American Chamber local chapter, said the lack of a robust apprenticeship program here is hurting the industry. For example, a new U.S. hire at Hahn probably has a good understanding of how a hydraulic system operates, but limited understanding about how to design new systems.

    The result is that Hahn must invest up to year in training before the worker has sufficient knowledge to be a meaningful contributor to the operation. If that same worker came from a European apprenticeship program, he or she would be fully trained walking in the door, Baines said.

    Swiss-based Feintool, a leading supplier of precision metal-forming equipment for the automotive and medical device market, is gaining a lot of attention for its apprenticeship program.

    The Blue Ash company, which started operations here in 1978 with 20 employees, has grown to 370. It has graduated 33 apprentices through its four-year tool-and-die program run in conjunction with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Sinclair Community College.

    Students start earning about $9.50 an hour and work full-time while receiving company-paid education at night. At the end of four years, they graduate with a certificate as a tool and die maker and start earning $15 an hour and up.

    For students with the interest and aptitude, Feintool will pay for college and graduate school.

    Lars Reich, Feintool' vice president of sales and marketing, started as an apprentice in Switzerland and earned an engineering degree there before getting an MBA from the University of Cincinnati.

    Beat Andrus, Feintool operations manager who also started as an apprentice in Switzerland, said an apprenticeship program requires a big investment in time and money by an employer.

    "This is a long-term solution. You've got to make the commitment to do it," he said.