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Training & Education

Heeding the call

By Lynn Stanley

Manufacturers team with Workshops for Warriors to grow a skilled workforce

December 2016 - Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, engage me and I learn.” A founding father, Franklin may have put his finger on a 21st century problem that plagues American manufacturers. There were 5.1 million job openings in September, 334,000 of them in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The number of open manufacturing positions rose almost 7.1 percent year over year. The top 10 hardest jobs to fill include skilled trades, laborers, engineers and technicians, reveals a Manpower survey published in 2016. A Deloitte survey from 2015 found 78 percent of manufacturing executives said the skills gap will impact their ability to implement new technology and provide good service while 82 percent affirmed it will hinder their capacity to meet customer demand.

In a nutshell, there are plenty of good jobs available but a scarcity of people with the right skill sets. In his book “Future Jobs: Solving the Employment and Skills Crisis,” author Ed Gordon points to lack of proper schooling as a key contributor to the problem. “People don’t have the liberal arts and thinking skills and specific career training needed in today’s technologically advancing world,” he wrote. “We need the skills to keep this technology working. We need people to build airplanes, keep the lights on at the Super Bowl, fix high-tech cars and plumbing systems…”

To Gordon’s point, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute reported that 80 percent of manufacturers disclosed a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions. Manufacturers’ appetite for talent isn’t likely to diminish. Grand View Research reported this year that the aerospace, automotive, electrical and electronic equipment industries will be the primary drivers behind a global metalforming market expected to exceed $180 billion by 2022. 

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WFW Founder Hernán Luis y Prado, his wife Rachel, and their daughters, Angelina and Alexia.

Qualifying for civilian work

For San Diego-based Navy veteran Hernán Luis y Prado, the answer to these problems seemed obvious. In the spirit of Ben Franklin’s advice to teach and engage, Luis y Prado set out to do both by turning an underserved group of men and women into a veteran and wounded warrior workforce. 

“An individual will undergo up to 15 months of training to become a qualified service member, but they receive less than five days of training to become a civilian,” he says. In the next five years, approximately 1.5 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces will leave military service and attempt to translate their skills to civilian jobs. Luis y Prado believes tapping this talent pool is the answer for service members who need jobs and U.S. companies that need workers with the right skill sets for advanced manufacturing.

A graduate of the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officers School Command, Luis y Prado completed the Chief Engineering Officer and Combat Systems Officer curricula and served three combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite his experience, he acknowledges the years spent perfecting his training business model “have been challenging.” He credits his wife, Rachel, whom he calls, “a data-driven person. Identifying the right metrics to determine success helped us flesh out what our organization would look like and what we wanted to accomplish,” he says. “We chose manufacturing because we wanted to give our students skills that were nationally recognized, had no expiration date and were portable.” 

To that end, Luis y Prado established Workshops for Warriors in 2008 and a machining and fabrication company—VetPowered LLC—in 2009 to help fund the nonprofit organization. FFJournal chronicled WFW’s early development and featured student profiles in its February 2013 issue.

Today, VetPowered continues to be supported by a veteran and wounded warrior workforce trained in digital manufacturing, welding, fabrication, machinery repair and customized education. The company’s smart manufacturing capabilities serve a diverse customer base. WFW has grown into a state-licensed, board-governed, fully audited 501 (c) (3) nonprofit school that has trained 321 veterans, wounded warriors and transitioning service members with a combined total of 1,223 nationally recognized credentials. 

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Teaching Assistant and WFW graduate Chris Stine trains Marine Corps veteran Chris Miller as part of the advanced machining program.

Primary disciplines are welding and advanced machining with courses in CAD/CAM programming, CNC milling, CNC turning, laser and waterjet cutting. Certifications meet the nationally recognized standards of the American Welding Society, National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Mastercam University, SolidWorks, Immerse2Learn and National Coalition for Certification Centers (NC3). In January, WFW received its license to operate by the Bureau of Post-Secondary Private Education, making it eligible for GI Bill tuition reimbursement in January 2019. 

The stakes are higher than ever, Luis y Prado says. “We’re fighting a war against mediocrity and a staggering lack of vision. We need to reclaim America’s role as a superpower in manufacturing that is environmentally responsible. One way we can do that is to give America the workforce she deserves. We are also looking to dispel the notion that innovation has shriveled.” 

There is no shortage of candidates for WFW’s training programs. “We’ve grown from one student, one day a week, to 50 students in six classes, six days a week, in just six years,” he says. “We’re graduating 120 students a year and it costs approximately $250,000 a month to run our school. We have a waiting list of more than 500 students.” 

WFW is the only national scalable advanced manufacturing facility for training that can be replicated throughout the U.S. The school has caught the attention of the White House. “We were asked to create 103 schools across the nation by the President,” Luis y Prado says. “We have 50 facilities already identified but you can’t build a highway if only one person is going to pay for it. Companies want us to build in their location but they are not willing to invest in it. So right now we’re focused on building capacity for a Train the Trainer facility here in San Diego.”  

WFW is in the midst of a capital fundraising campaign to build on land provided by an anonymous donor. The planned facility would allow WFW to graduate 450 students a year. Luis y Prado’s singular approach is indicative of his philosophy. “Everyone needs to stop thinking that the government will do something or that someone else will do it,” he notes. Several manufacturers—equally invested in obtaining qualified workers—have heeded the call in a number of ways. Their example is one Luis y Prado hopes other companies will follow. 

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Matching funds

Haas Automation Inc. joined the ranks with WFW early on. Founded by Gene Haas in 1983, the Oxnard, California-based machine tool builder entrusted new equipment to the school and donated $50,000 in 2012. The following year, Haas offered a matching grant of up to $100,000 to increase training support. In 2014, Haas awarded WFW with $500,000 in scholarship funds. In 2015 and 2016, the company bestowed scholarship funds of $250,000. Scholarship monies and grants are issued through the Gene Haas Foundation, established by Gene Haas in 1999. The private foundation provides scholarships for students entering technical training programs and supports youth programs designed to interest young people in manufacturing and machining.

“Finding qualified people is one of the biggest problems we have today,” says Haas Vice President Peter Zierhut, who volunteers as the head of the foundation. “We’re solely focused on career technical education—machinists, welders, trades—we recognize there is a serious shortage.” The Haas Technical Education Center Network is an industry and education initiative that allows manufacturing technology educators and their schools to acquire the latest Haas products. “We estimate that about 60,000 students a year are exposed to Haas products through HTEC,” Zierhut says.

It was through these connections that Zierhut met Luis y Prado. “He needed our products,” Zierhut says. “As a manufacturer, we’ve given WFW access to our machines for a number of years through a trust arrangement. The nearly half a million in grants and scholarships have helped to pay for student costs and instructor salaries. We would like to see him duplicate his training model across the country. The goal is to get more companies and individuals to jump in and get started.”

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Brenda Miyamoto, Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co.’s vice president of corporate initiatives, believes WFW is helping to fill “a definite gap.” In 2013, when Reliance Steel personnel were introduced to Luis y Prado through the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, the Los Angeles-based chain of service centers had just completed an analysis of its own workforce. 

“We found that over a third of our personnel were over 50 years old,” says Miyamoto. “We continue to be faced with the challenge of how to replace our workforce as our employees move toward retirement. The WFW model gives us a pipeline for future employees by training our veterans who so deserve our support after all they have done for our country. We are proud to partner with WFW.”

At the time of the meeting with Luis y Prado, Reliance Steel was ramping up a Community Partnerships program. Its goal with the program was to partner with organizations that supported veterans. “WFW was a perfect fit,” Miyamoto says. In 2013, Reliance Steel installed a new ventilation system for WFW welding booths. The service center added a new CAD/CAM classroom in 2014. Matching grants were issued in 2015 and 2016 through the Reliance Steel Capital Campaign committee. 

Reliance Steel CEO  Gregg Mollins, who is also committee chairman for the Capital Campaign, works with the WFW team on its capital fundraising strategies and introduced the organization to major suppliers who have since become supporters through financial gifts or by donating services to support the new building.

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From left: John Jones, director of development, WFW; Nick Ostrowski, general manager, Amada North America; Hernán Luis y Prada, founder, WFW; and Mike Guerin, COO, Amada.

Growing pains

To grow, WFW needs funds. “A lot of people think our problem is getting students hired,” says Nick Ostrowski, general manager-media/communications for Amada North America Inc., and a member of the WFW Board of Directors. “We have a 94 percent placement rate. Our biggest challenge is that we don’t have a big enough pipeline. We don’t have the funds to hire more trainers or add the space needed to certify more veterans faster.”  

Amada had just opened its Brea, California, laser manufacturing facility in 2012 when Ostrowski first learned of Workshops for Warriors. The Marine veteran recalls his visit to the school. “I saw amputees, Marines with physical injuries, and these veterans were infantry with skills that don’t translate well to the civilian workplace. Yet they were each working hard to certify themselves in disciplines that would allow them to work in my industry. With my background it was impossible to say ‘no.’” 

The sheet metal machine manufacturer donated one of the first CO2 lasers to come off the Brea production line followed by a new high-precision press brake. Amada Miyachi donated laser markers. Amada also designs and provides exhibit booths for WFW at trade shows like Fabtech.

“WFW is a filter, not a pump,” says Ostrowski. “We don’t take people [nor do we keep people] who aren’t motivated to embrace the program. These young adults are disciplined, they know what it is to work and they have chosen the metalworking industry. That’s why WFW can guarantee that graduates will be motivated, qualified metalworkers. As an employer that is what you want to see.” 

FFJ 1216 training image6In addition to the funds it is raising for its new facility, WFW is working to secure federal approval for GI benefits. “The process an organization has to go through to accept the GI Bill is excruciatingly long,” says Ostrowski. “We’ve been waiting six years and hope to be approved by January 2018, and accepting GI Bill monies by January 2019. We’re also working to shorten the waiting list to get graduates out in the workplace quicker. The best way to get involved with WFW is to fund a $30,268 scholarship for one of these vets.”

An introduction that took place at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in 2013 quickly grew into a larger partnership between the company and WFW. For Kevin Mooney (at left), the shipyard’s vice president for programs and supply chain management, the partnership was a natural fit: “NASSCO and WFW share a lot of mutual interests and serve the same customers, including the U.S. Navy and commercial operators,” he says. General Dynamics NASSCO designs, builds, maintains and repairs ocean-going vessels for the U.S. Navy and commercial fleets.

Earlier this year, Mooney joined the WFW Board of Directors to support students through mentoring and skills development. “NASSCO has its own internal training program, so we’ve been able to share lessons with one another,” says Mooney. “WFW has great growth potential and we look forward to helping the organization serve as an avenue for skills training and employment to former members of our Armed Forces.” NASSCO is the recipient of specially made parts and components from the school and has supplied the school with raw materials.

FFJ 1216 training image7Teeth in the game

Doug Harris (at left) supports replication of the WFW training model in other states but agrees that “it takes money.” Harris is a second generation owner of Pryor, Oklahoma-based HE&M Saw, which manufactures more than 70 different models of production band saws for the metalworking industry. “The people that are putting teeth into this program isn’t the government, it is other businesses.” 

HE&M Saw has supplied WFW with equipment, financial donations and a network of contacts since 2007, but there is another reason the company “bleeds red, white and blue.” Harris is an Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He comes from a long line of veterans and he understands the difficulties that come with trying to re-enter civilian life. 

“When we would go out in our uniforms, people called us baby killers and did not want to serve us at restaurants,” he says. “I saw many of my friends struggle with that. Following the war service members were downsized and discharged without military deprogramming. They were good at programming civilians and equipping them for combat in four months but the skills that made them effective for a combat theater didn’t translate once they left the service. Today war is a little bit different, but the challenges and the comradery is the same. Hernán’s program made a huge impression on me. The concept to fill the skills gap with veterans makes perfect sense.”

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Snapshot in time

In Philip, South Dakota, with a population of 885, Jerry Kroetch (above) is a second-generation business owner. His father, Art, started Scotchman Industries 60 years ago by making and selling farm-related products. In 1966, he purchased the patent for a hydraulic ironworker, the first machine of its kind in the world. Today, the company produces metal fabrication equipment, hydraulic ironworkers, accessories and custom tools.

“My dad had a vision,” says Kroetch, who worked his way up from welder to president. “I was blessed that someone believed in me enough to think I’d grow up one day. Hernán was just getting started when he called me out of the blue. At first I said no but he is one heck of a marketing guy and he doesn’t take no for answer. It soon became apparent that like my dad, Hernán had a vision and it was to help veterans.”

Scotchman has provided equipment to WFW ranging from an ironworker to a band saw and a circular saw. Kroetch acknowledges there is a huge skills gap but also notes another challenge. Despite technical schools that teach machining and welding, Kroetch says these vocations aren’t much different than that of engineers. Skilled workers want to exchange small town living for the big cities.To combat the migration Scotchman has had to train the majority of its workforce in-house.

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Ed Miller takes a shop tour with the fall 2015 WFW graduation class.

Software paves another path

Ed Miller sees the long-term impact of the program for customers and businesses when he weighs the need for skilled workers in advanced manufacturing. The director of corporate accounts for Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, Miller joined the WFW board of directors in 2015. The company also made a $35,000 donation to the school the same year. Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, Waltham, Massachusetts, provides comprehensive 3D software that allows users to create, simulate, publish and manage data. The need for classroom licenses is what ultimately led Luis y Prado to Miller and his educational team. 

“If you are well versed in SolidWorks you can employ hands-on manufacturing and tap into engineering expertise,” he says. “The result is a more cost efficient part with higher marketability. It’s especially useful for WFW because most of the veterans going through the program don’t have a mechanical engineering background. But with the right skill set, students can learn the software and bring cost-saving measures to prospective employers.” 

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Class photo/Ed talking: Ed Miller talks with WFW students about SolidWorks, an in-demand skill in 3D CAD.

In 2013, SolidWorks launched the Military Veterans Program (MVP) that gives veterans access to a student version of SolidWorks for just the cost of shipping. “The first year we issued 23 licenses,” Miller notes. “Last year we shipped out 322. This year we opened the program to active duty service members and have already distributed 1,800 licenses. It exposes them to career possibilities in engineering disciplines. It’s a little like STEM education for veterans.”

Manufacturing executives surveyed by Deloitte said it takes 70 days to recruit skilled production workers. The study also showed that even though 80 percent of manufacturers were willing to pay above-market rate in areas hit by the skills deficit, “six out of 10 positions remain unfilled.” The statistics are fuel for the WFW movement which continues to pick up steam. “We’re taking up arms,” says Luis y Prado, “manufacturing arms to help America regain her lead. We’re training the Navy seals of manufacturing in machining, welding, repair and fabrication. And with each helping hand we’re given another spark of hope.”FFJ

An American manufacturer for nearly 50 years, Kroetch feels “blessed to be part of the WFW movement. Hernán is helping to keep the backbone of this country moving forward.”

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