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Training & Education

Strength in numbers

By Lauren Duensing

Above: Because of the Smart Talent program, A.R.E. has improved its hiring process to compete for good people, reducing turnover.

Collaborating with extension partnership centers helps small and midsize manufacturers solve everyday challenges

November 2019 - Manufacturing is booming in Oregon, with manufacturers accounting for more than 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. The most recognizable goods come from Nike Inc., Adidas U.S., Columbia Sportswear Co. and Intel Corp., but the machined metals sector is a huge player in the state, with companies like Precision Castparts, Vigor Industrial and Evraz North America creating thousands of high-paying jobs for skilled machinists.

Beyond the big names, however, are many smaller companies whose contributions are just as important. Eighty percent of the state’s 5,000-plus manufacturing companies have 50 or fewer employees. Due to their size, these companies sometimes have trouble finding the capacity or resources to make cost-saving improvements focused on workplace efficiency or to develop hiring, training and retention programs.

“We hear from manufacturers in all sectors, not just metals, about the skills shortage,” says Aaron Fox, president of the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “Companies struggle to find and keep good workers. Manufacturers also tell us they have difficulty ‘skilling up’ existing workers and [conducting] cross training. Many metals companies find themselves competing for the same few skilled workers at increasingly higher [pay] rates. Without the capacity to cross train and skill up, this shortage and challenge will continue.”

Problem solving

OMEP is the Oregon representative of the National MEP Network, a public-private organization dedicated to serving small and midsized manufacturers. The network has centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Last year, MEP centers interacted with 27,707 manufacturers, leading to $16 billion in sales, $1.7 billion in cost savings, $4 billion in new client investments, and the retention or creation of more than 122,000 jobs.

“The MEP system helps manufacturers solve problems, including exporting, lean and quality management, workforce retention and training, reshoring and supply chain,” Fox explains. “OMEP can collaborate with every resource available through the system, connecting Oregon’s manufacturers to a vast network of manufacturing experts across the nation.

“OMEP bends solutions around each client’s challenges,” he continues. “We perform a free assessment to determine the greatest need that will have the biggest impact. Then we build a custom plan that goes at the client’s pace—we call this drip irrigation consulting. We’re on site with clients multiple times a month, working side by side to help them achieve their goals.”

FFJ 1119 training image1

A.R.E. Manufacturing Inc. produces machined components using high-precision equipment.

Improving processes

Family owned A.R.E. Manufacturing Inc. in Newberg, Oregon, is a contract manufacturer that specializes in machined components. With experience in the high-tech automation, dental, marine, recreational and hydraulic industries, the company has expanded far beyond the garage where it was started.

With that growth came challenges, however, A.R.E. president Alvin Elbert says, citing “process organization, excessive waste, finding and retaining good employees, and developing a good leadership program.”

The company first reached out to OMEP in 2005, “when we were trying to get help with a million-dollar building expansion. After our initial consultation, we invested between $300,000 and $400,000 into OMEP’s lean program.”

The program included help implementing lean manufacturing techniques, such as standardizing manufacturing processes, point-of-use storage, plant layout, setup reduction and value stream mapping. Together, these concepts work together to create a “paint-by-number” machining system, and this investment in efficiency has allowed A.R.E. to “avoid a building expansion to today,” Elbert says.

Bridging a gap

In 2015, A.R.E. and OMEP again collaborated to create a structured on-the-job training program. “A.R.E. realized there was a large gap in its training program,” Fox says. “This gap resulted in quality, productivity and morale issues. Entry-level employee turnover was high, and tribal knowledge was difficult to translate and disseminate.”

Over the course of four months, Fox says, OMEP and A.R.E. refined the company’s hiring process, developing skill sets and career pathways to provide employees with a road to success. OEMP’s Smart Talent training system differs from other structured on-the-job skills training programs because it quickly integrates new employees and develops incumbents. “Training is built into the regular workday, allowing trainers and trainees to see immediate results and increase their confidence,” Fox continues.

“Before Smart Talent and Paint-By-Number, it would take four years of on-the-job training for an unexperienced new hire to be able to set up our more complicated horizontal machining centers,” Elbert explains. “Now, with our new programs, we have had new employees set up a horizontal machining center in less than 12 months. OMEP also helped us develop a machinist development pathway that is a visual representation of the career path we can offer to new hires.”

OMEP’s team is made up of ex-manufacturing business owners and engineers. Elbert advises any company considering reaching out to an MEP to “just do it. You can’t go wrong. Also, get involved with local and regional workforce groups. Many of them have grant money available for training. MEP centers may have solutions to problems that you may not even realize you have yet, mostly because they have such a different perspective.” FFJ

Sources

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Bradbury Group

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Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing

WATERJET

Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.

SAWING

Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools

METAL FORMING

Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
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MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
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