Jeff Somple, the president of Mack Molding Co. Inc., cringed every time he passed a conference room where a bright and energetic college intern was typing and shuffling papers between two stacks flanking her keyboard.
Somple went to the person the intern reported to and asked what she did for the Arlington, Vt.-based injection molder and contract manufacturer.
"I was told data entry and I thought, 'I'm bored watching her; she must be so bored doing it,'" Somple said. "We needed a more formal program. It was my lightning bolt moment."
Seven years later, the internship program at Mack Molding is a robust form of job training and job recruitment focused on assigning 16-20 interns a year to projects, not tasks. From developing quotes in the sales office to helping set production parameters on the factory floor, students do what Somple calls "real work" for 40 hours a week at $15 an hour.
Mack Molding interns also get a gym or golf club membership so they can socialize after hours and on weekends.
"I want them to see themselves maybe living and working here," Somple said.
Many are. Mack Molding now employs 19 of its former interns. In recent years, the business has been retaining 20-25 percent of its interns. That's important for the company, which hired 100 people last year and has about 40 positions open right now, including 10 to be filled by engineers or high-level technicians.
Young workers are in big demand everywhere with the tight labor market. At the same time, Mack is growing so Somple and his team try to "convert" as many interns as possible to full-time employees after they earn their degrees.
Founded in 1920, Mack Molding supplies molded plastic and fabricated metal parts to a variety of markets, including medical, industrial, transportation, energy, business equipment, defense and consumer goods. The company is a subsidiary of the privately held Mack Group Inc., which also consists of Mack Prototype, Mack Technologies and Synectic Engineering.
Sales reached $470 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, according to Somple, making Mack Group one of the top injection molding firms in North America.
"All divisions are growing at the same time, which is unusual," Somple said. "Usually one might be struggling. We've been fortunate. You perform well, you get more opportunities; but a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and American manufacturing kind of having a renaissance."
A major growth area for Mack Molding involves eletromechanical assemblies for robots, 3D printers and Class III medical devices, Somple said. The corporate tax reductions in 2017 have helped, he added, pointing to the tax rate drop to 21 percent from 35 percent. A lot of businesses redirected the money to new technologies, programs, tooling and equipment.
"There's a quiet resurgence in manufacturing," Somple said. "It's been going on for a while. But I think it's taking a while for people to catch up to the new reality so it has been hard filling positions."
Also, for years, young adults were discouraged from going into manufacturing. They were told it's a dying industry with China getting all the work, and some saw factories close and relatives lose jobs. Mack's internship program is helping change those perceptions.
"It has been wildly successful even though it is hard to attract people to manufacturing in general," Somple said. "Once we get them in the door and they see what we're doing, they realize, 'Wow, this isn't my grandfather's molding company.' It has been really rewarding for me."