Help wanted by mold makers

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Much of the talk on our 24/7 news networks is regarding the lack of employment opportunities in America. But when connecting with companies that produce molds and dies, the opposite message rings clear: Help wanted.

While commentary regarding trailing indicators will ramble on, what isn’t being reported is that those who build tools have seen that the OEMs that accumulated reserves during the recession are now tooling-up. And due to recognition that the cheapest tool may prove to be an expensive purchase, tools are sourced locally. 

This is putting many mold-manufacturing companies in a pinch. Over a challenging past 10 years, a generation of skilled toolmakers retired, while many younger machinists changed career paths towards the housing-related sector. Those who would be incoming to the metalworking trades would question entering the manufacturing world vs. the presumed safety of the white collar world.

How some companies and educators have been responding to this need can be further put into practice so that the current and potential future demand is addressed by an increase in staffing and capability.

Making contact

A recent visit to the College of Lake County (CLC) in Grayslake, Ill., brought into view not only state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies, but also a jobs posting board with a robust amount of listings from local manufacturers.

When a mold-building company posts such an opening, not only is it a positive message for the students, but also for the administration that supports their expansion in manufacturing.

In addition, companies are increasingly offering shop tours in order to expose students to our industry as a viable career.

“During the spring 2011 semester we took two tours of Nypro Mold,” said Jeffrey Hines, department chair of the CNC/machine tool trades program at CLC. “There are many tremendous benefits to doing these tours. The students get an opportunity to see an actual machining facility in their area and ask questions. They get to see advanced technologies and receive assurance that the working environment does not meet the stigmatisms attached to the trade. Tours are a tremendous motivational tool to strengthen interest in the trade.”

Active chapters

The Western Michigan chapter of the American Mold Builders Association has been setting a new standard for engaging both schools and students, and in recognition of this it won AMBA Chapter of the Year honors in 2010. The chapter donated $10,000 in award money to local training programs — dollars that help buy tooling and accessories, and send a much-needed signal to administrators from the marketplace.

“Many of the shop classes that would feed into a manufacturing career from the high school level are gone, so we’re working to remedy that situation,” said Andy Baker at Byrne Tool & Die of Rockford, Mich., a member company of the chapter. “Our AMBA chapter has been partnering with the Kent Career and Technical Center, which is a tech center serving all of Kent County. There’s a whole population of young people out there that should be tapped into, and that’s what we’re working at accomplishing.”

“Technical colleges are critical to rebuilding the manufacturing sector,” said Justin McPhee at Mold Craft Inc., a Willernie, Minn., AMBA member company. “In order to grow our businesses, we need more talented people, so we have to prime the pump, help them through school where possible and give them a place to work when they are done.

“The Minneapolis area is blessed with many technical programs for both design and machine tooling,” he added. “This past summer our chapter awarded $2,500 to each of four students entering the trade. Mold Craft has hosted plant tours or presented to students an average of three times per year over the past five years. Most of these tours and presentations have been with high school students and teachers, along with tours for the technical colleges. Those from our chapter have posted job openings on the technical college job boards to fill openings, while further conveying the demand.”

Justin bottom-lined it: “The more people we can expose to our clean, temperature-controlled, high-tech facilities to open their eyes about manufacturing, the more chance we all have for success.”

Resources available

Mold builders need not go it alone. Working together within the industry’s trade association brings strength to long-term initiatives that can only come by working as a team. And suppliers to the mold industry should be unapologetically contacted for donations of funds, components, tooling and fixtures.

With many OEMs now tooling up, so must we all. New groundwork is being put into place to serve the needs of the current generation of mold buyers, and if successful, these needs can be served well into the future.

Starkey is president of Progressive Components International Corp. of Wauconda, Ill.