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Freudenberg program helps to fill need for engineers

By: Don Detore
RUBBER & PLASTICS NEWS

February 11, 2014

PLYMOUTH, MICH. — It will take 24 months and thousands of miles of travel for Alexander Turkan to find his dream job.

But the wait certainly will be worth it for the Purdue University graduate currently working as a quality engineer at Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies Inc.'s facility in Bristol, N.H.

Turkan is one of eight members of the inaugural class of Freudenberg's Emerging Professional Program, an initiative designed to provide intensive training to a select group of recent college graduates, allowing them to experience the company's processes and products from a variety of angles.

The eight spent or are in the process of spending 18 to 24 months on a series of assignments throughout the organization, working and learning at various Freudenberg-NOK sites across the U.S., performing jobs that help shape their future role with the polymer seal manufacturer. Those that have graduated from the program have been assigned a permanent position within the organization.

"This program exceeded my expectations," Turkan said. "It was a good surprise. I wasn't expecting it to be this comprehensive, and I wasn't expecting Freudenberg to invest in my professional development as much."

Targeting college graduates

The EPP, initiated in June 2012, targets talented recent college graduates of any age — from institutions such as Ferris State, the University of Michigan, Georgia Tech and Illinois State — all of whom have a GPA above 3.0, have had internships, are highly mobile and motivated, can speak at least two languages, and have demonstrated a willingness and aptitude for specialized positions within the polymer industry.

With competition for graduating engineers fierce, the program is designed to recruit and retain the brightest and best to Freudenberg-NOK, differentiating the company among recent graduates, according to Michelle Tomaszek, director of the EPP.

"We may not be the biggest fish in the sea, and we're in an industry that may not be considered as fun or as sexy as some of the other groups out there," she said. "But if we can show [graduates] things that they are interested in, like flexibility, like mobility, and truly showing and proving to them that we are making an investment in our people. That's what is at the core of this program."

First, Freudenberg-NOK identified a group of candidates that it believed fits its criteria. In addition to all of the tangible items above, the company said it sought enthusiastic, forward-thinking employees who have the drive and ambition to contribute to Freudenberg-NOK's success.

"They've got to be very open-minded, very motivated, very eager, excited about the program," Tomaszek said. "They pick us, and they're excited to have the development opportunity. They're excited to grow."

Once they accept, they are considered Freudenberg-NOK employees and receive compensation and benefits just like any other employee.

Following a specific path

Each class member is assigned a mentor, then spends his or her time rotating among positions and facilities under the Freudenberg-NOK umbrella, tailored to both the interests of the employee as well as the needs of the company. Each will follow one of four engineering tracks: process, products, quality, and sales and marketing.

Tomaszek and other executives across the company meticulously determine where and for how long each member of the class will be placed during their training, with the goal of making that engineer the most successful he or she can be. Each spends the first month of his or her assignment in production, on the floor, making parts.

Turkan said the comprehensive rotational development program was one of the main reasons he chose to enter the program. "The training I received was like graduate-level classes," he said.

Turkan has spent time at plants in Plymouth, Mich.; Findlay, Ohio; and Bristol. He also visited facilities in Cleveland, Ga.; Morristown, Ind.; Shelbyville, Ind.; Manchester, N.H.; and Troy, Ohio.

"It's almost like four or five months of in-class training," he said. "I've got to see the plant component side, where we do metal stamping, rubber processing ... I was able to see the processes right on the site."

Once the program nears its conclusion, candidates receive an offer letter, assigning them a permanent job within a particular facility. Employment, however, is at-will; either party may abandon the relationship at any time.

Need for engineers

Freudenberg-NOK tentatively has plans to resume the program later this year — perhaps combining its two regional programs into one global program — with candidates being recruited in the fall.

"Based on the demand that we have in our organization for these people, we always need engineers; we always have the need for this type of developed talent," Tomaszek said. "Our leaders ... want to invest in this program and develop our associates because we're an engineering company, and we need people in this program."

Turkan said his peers are impressed by the depth of the program.

"When I compare myself to where my colleagues [from Purdue] stand, who are working at different companies or on different product development programs," he said, "what this program added for me is far beyond what I thought."