Romeo, Mich. — As low unemployment and the skilled worker shortage make headlines almost daily, a small Michigan injection mold maker is finding young people and growing its own future workforce.
At TK Mold & Engineering Inc., more than half of the shop-floor machinists — 14 out of 20 — are 19 to 25 years old. That's an extraordinary ratio of young people in a graying industry.
Tom and Krista Barr, the husband-and-wife team who own the mold shop in Romeo, north of Detroit, scour the area for promising young people who want to learn the trade. They worked with Macomb Community College, where Tom did his own apprenticeship more than 25 years ago, to create a curriculum for a four-year-long apprenticeship program for mold makers.
They also get involved with Romeo High School.
"We're fortunate in Michigan, in the Detroit area, we have an infrastructure with all the manufacturing that goes on here at the local community college, and even a lot of the high schools have skilled trades programs already in motion," Tom Barr said.
Like most other Michigan mold makers, the company serves the automotive market, building tools for interior and exterior trim parts. TK also makes insert molds and molds for two-shot rotary and overmolding and builds some tools for nonautomotive markets, such as aerospace.
Barr was working at a mold shop when the owner moved the operation and offered to sell it to him. The Barrs bought the business in 2003, renaming it TK Mold & Engineering (for Tom and Krista).
The shop had an older, mature staff. TK made it through the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, and then the automotive sector bounced back quickly.
"Coming out of the downturn, things were going good, and to find help was not easy," Tom Barr said. "So now we've made a commitment to go develop the help."
Total employment has grown from 13 to 24 today: 20 on the floor and four administrative workers.