DuraTech Constructs New Training Lab; Changes Training Process to Tighten the Skills Gap & Change Outlook on Manufacturing Careers.
The manufacturing industry is facing a potential shortage of 2.4 million workers in the next decade. Nearly 1/3 of its workforce is currently over 55. As this group retires, there is concern there will be fewer workers to replace them in those positions that require specific skillsets. Some say this is a direct result of a skills gap, while others say, it is its reputation for being an old, dirty and unsafe industry with little opportunity for career development. Pre-pandemic, a record low unemployment rate also made it tough to fill manufacturing job openings.
DuraTech Industries understands this is not a new problem, or just a future one, and hopes to not only help bridge the skills gap, but also help change the stigma about working in the manufacturing industry. DuraTech recently completed construction on a new training lab at their La Crosse, Wisconsin Headquarters. Derived from the realization that their current training process could be more effective, this new training lab promises to be very impactful on not only the recruitment of new DuraTech team members, but also retention.
It’s impossible to overstate how important training is. The “learning via fire hose” training method has never been effective, but it has been commonly used to help fill many manufacturing positions in the short term. However, DuraTech is trying a different training method. According to Chris Wehrle, DuraTech’s VP of Human Resources, their new training lab will primarily be used to train team members in its screen printing department, with the goal of learning and applying what they learned without the pressure of meeting a production schedule. Led by Carol Faas, a 25 year veteran team member of DuraTech, new team members will learn about theory, terminology and process in a classroom setting and then have the opportunity to take that knowledge and apply it on press.
Faas is thrilled about the opportunity to train team members prior to them actually working on real job orders. She says she wants new team members to feel really good, happy and confident about the job they are doing. “Screen printing is a lot more high-tech than people think,” shares Faas. DuraTech is also adding Artificial Intelligence or, “AI” to different aspects of its operations, which adds a whole other level of information for team members to understand. The training lab has 6 new computers for team members to use for testing and completing certifications, which have recently gone paperless, as well as a large screen TV for viewing presentations and videos.
There are also screen printing presses that team members can learn on, which replicates a real press operation, without impacting real customer’s orders. Faas said they are also adding visual learning tools, such as a “Defects by Type” board. Trainees can use these visuals to better identify faults, defects and problems in screen printing.
Faas says some team members have little to no experience on a computer, let alone a press, so being able to take the time to teach them these skills, whether 1:1 or in a group setting will help so much. Wehrle added, “We wanted to provide training to our new team members without the distraction of the day to day operations. In the training lab, they will have the undivided attention of the trainer(s).”
Wehrle also addressed the skills gap, stating the new training curriculum for the screen printing department is a focused approach that can quickly identify skill gaps and provide the trainer(s) the flexibly to make needed adjustments to close those gaps.
With any improvement in training, there should also be a cost savings to the company. Wehrle agrees. She said the majority of cost savings will come through improved quality and productivity, as well as intangible, difficult to measure savings such as improved confidence and positive attitude of learning those skills.
It’s not surprising that DuraTech is investing so much into the new onboarding process of its team members. DuraTech often looks within its own company to identify advancement opportunities, promoting career development. Their relationships with local schools and TUMMA, also provides opportunities for job shadows and apprenticeships for those looking to enter a manufacturing field.
DuraTech has made other, significant improvements to the beautification of its La Crosse, Wisconsin Headquarters buildings, including a new state of the art, 47,000 square foot manufacturing addition in 2018. It’s been touted as one of La Crosse’s cleanest manufacturing facilities. Their new training lab is no less attractive.
Although the screening team will be the primary group to use the new training lab, Wehrle said it is open to all departments. The computer lab, Wehrle explained, is a great set up for any web based training. It is already being used for training on DuraTech’s new HR software program, Ascentis. They also have plans for using it for training on safety and other workplace compliance topics.
DuraTech team members will value not only working in a clean and safe environment, but also, on- the- job training, utilizing cutting edge technology to perform their jobs, and having opportunities for advancement. If you are interested in being part of the DuraTech team, visit the career page for more information.