Facing the skilled-worker shortage, Milacron LLC is working with UC Clermont, the University of Cincinnati's regional college, to train a new generation of machinists.
The school and the plastics machinery maker put the program together quickly, in about eight months.
“We had good will on both sides. ... So everybody just did everything they could to make it happen,” said Melissa Wink, Milacron's interim human resources director.
The first class of 10 trainees started Sept. 4. After 15 weeks, they get an entry-level job at Milacron's machining plant in nearby Mount Orab, Ohio.
They are learning basic skills at UC East, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. Classes cover shop math, principles of machining, lean manufacturing and blueprint reading and drafting using computer-aided design. They take a basic “success skills” course.
UC Clermont has set up the branch school in Batavia — just a mile from Milacron's main assembly plant — in a former Ford front-wheel-drive-transmission factory that closed in 2008.
“The biggest reason we're doing this is because we've got an aging workforce,” said Jim Kinzie, machining plant manager of the Mount Orab facility, which employs 220.
Simple demographics say Milacron will need to hire 70 machinists to replace retirees over the next decade. “A third of our people in Mount Orab are over 55. So what that means is, we've got to turn over a third of our workforce in 10 years. And it's not just machine operators. It's the whole organization, from top down. Manufacturing engineers. Production control. So that's why this has to be an ongoing program for us, and we need to grow people from the bottom up.”
Kinzie said it's a true apprenticeship program. The company pre-selected the candidates, paid for the schooling and is paying the 10 trainees for their time.
Student Ben Chaney, 24, had trouble finding a good job. His father told him Milacron was hiring, so he called. The receptionist told him about the new program at UC Clermont.
“It's a great opportunity,” Chaney said. “It's unheard of. You know that, when you're done with your school, you got a job.”
How to find qualified new industrial workers has become a national issue. Germany has a long history of workforce apprenticeships for young people. But the United States is grappling with the challenge of luring people into manufacturing.
Milacron, the only remaining U.S. broad-line manufacturer of plastics equipment, laid people off during the crushing recession and then, as machinery demand boomeranged back, has scrambled to add employees again. Milacron has hired about 160 people so far this year.
The experience during the manufacturing rebound only highlighted what Milacron executives already had identified as a long-term problem.
“We've been working on finding people. You just couldn't find them,” Kinzie said. “We had plenty of people coming in to fill out applications, but they just weren't qualified, and we couldn't teach them at our plant.”
Milacron interviewed all candidates. Like any employee, each had to pass a drug test and background check. Candidates were tested for math skills and engineering aptitude.
“There was a lot of up-front work that went in to making sure we got the best candidates going forward,” Kinzie said.
Once trainees successfully complete the 15-week program, they will start work in Mount Orab the following Monday.
“Now, will they be ready to walk up to a machine, push the button and go? No. They're going to have to learn the process, and work with someone else for six weeks or so. But they are ages ahead of someone walking in off the street,” Kinzie said.
Milacron did not have the space at its busy machine shop, or at the assembly factory in Batavia, to house an education program. So, Wink said, company officials looked at the former Ford factory next door. They found out that UC Clermont was leasing part of the sprawling building.
Glenda Neff, director of UC East, said the university first leased 80,000 square feet of the transmission factory's old office space in 2010, moving its health-care program from the cramped main UC Clermont campus in the village of Batavia.
Officials of UC held the first working session in January. In June, the school leased another 10,000 square feet of space to house Milacron's training class and UC Clermont's Manufacturing Technology program. The area is the old transmission-testing lab, so it's well-suited for manufacturing, with cranes and reinforced flooring.
This fall, UC East kicked off the customized Milacron training.
Wink said Milacron executives worked closely with the university. UC Clermont Dean Greg Sojka is a strong supporter, she said. The Clermont County Chamber of Commerce got involved.
“The win here was, we get people trained to be ship-ready when they've graduated. And they also come out with college credits,” said Wink, director of corporate communications and external relations.
On Sept. 21, the facility got some needed funding when the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded UC Clermont a $250,000 grant for its manufacturing technology center. The federal money will train 100 workers for jobs in advanced manufacturing.
UC East will use the grant to add more machining and plastics processing equipment. Dexter Hulse, an associate professor of CAD, has a space lined up for an injection molding press and maybe a blow molding machine.
Wink said the recent ARC grant puts the program on solid financial ground. “It was nice to see education and industry come together, and county and state government,” she said.
Kinzie, a 40-plus year Milacron veteran, benefited from the company's training program himself, as a co-op student in mechanical engineering. He spent three months at UC, then three months training at Milacron. “When I graduated from college [in 1972], I came to work,” he said.
Kinzie helped develop the courses for the new apprenticeship effort.
Neff, of UC East, said the school can move quickly to help local companies. And Milacron employs about 850 people in southwestern Ohio. In the Greater Cincinnati area, 9,000 of the 16,000 jobs created in 2011 were in the manufacturing sector.
“We're a regional campus. Our feeling is that we are small enough to have the speed to make those changes, like a community college would,” Neff said.
Community colleges are playing a key role in boosting American competitiveness, said Craig Giffi, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP. Giffi handles manufacturing issues.
“We have found most manufacturers that develop significant programs that are targeted at the skilled direct-labor force, are doing that with community colleges,” he said.
Right now, the economy is “kind of meandering,” but over the next 10 years, a combination of skilled workers retiring and a strong economy could spell a double whammy for the United States, said Giffi, who is based in Cleveland. He is consumer and industrial products industry leader at Deloitte.
Giffi said companies use long-range planning to hire engineers or scientists, because “that's not usually something they need immediately.” But a manufacturer facing a growth spurt needs shop-floor workers right now, he said.
These people must have specific skills, especially math. “We don't seem have a pipeline of students that generally have the skill sets,” Giffi said. Most high school students also aren't interested in manufacturing careers, he added.
To address that, Milacron has reinstated high school co-ops and apprenticeship training at local vocational schools.
Ben Chaney, the young trainee, said he always dreamed of hiring on at one of Cincinnati's bellwether companies. “I always thought of Milacron as one of those places, like GE and P&G, where you're set once you get on — but unless you know somebody you don't have a chance,” he said.
Now Chaney and the other freshman class members are forging their own path, straight to Mount Orab.
Melissa Wink from Milacron LLC will be part of a panel that will discuss talent acquisition strategies at the upcoming Plastics News Executive Forum at the Saddlebrook Resort near Tampa, Fla.
Other panelists include Mary Scheibel, founder and principal of Trefoil Group, and Doreen Lettau, vice president for market and business development at Dickten Masch Plastics LLC.
For more information, visit www.plasticsnews.com/forum2013.