Under the watchful eye of Andy Joly, senior toolmaker at Westminster Tool, apprentice machinist Brian Johnston reassembles a mold and prepares it for validation. Although they're closely supervised, apprentices like Johnston shoulder much of the responsibility for their own training. (Photo courtesy of Creative Technologies).
I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that fewer moldmakers than ever before are celebrating Labor Day this year, and not just as a result of the “Great Recession” or any previous downturn that hollowed out the industry. The lack of fresh talent coming in—talent for which the industry is increasingly desperate—also plays a role.
Consider the case of Westminster Tool, 2014’s Leadtime Leader award winner and a specialist in small-to-medium injection molds for the aerospace, medical and industrial markets. After spending $15,000 in nine months on help-wanted ads for skilled mold makers, Westminster received four applications. Two of those were from individuals who were retired and wanted something to keep them busy part time. One decided that the cost of living was too high in Connecticut. “Something had to be done,” recalls Ray Coombs, company president. “We are a growing company, and we needed to meet the demands of our customers for shortened lead times.”
To address this need, the company created “Westminster Academy.” Calling an internal training program an “academy” might seem pretentious, but in this case, the name is apt. This is a formal, highly structured initiative with the goal of creating training programs to duplicate all internal positions within the company.
In conjunction with the Academy, Westminster has utilized a local non-profit organization, the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA), to build relationships with local community colleges. The community colleges have been instrumental in working with area manufacturers to ensure they are providing relevant courses to apprentices, as well as courses that help incumbent workers improve their manufacturing skillsets.
One of these colleges, Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC), established an Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program in 2012. Westminster Tool has since hired three graduates from QVCC’s program, and is sponsoring two more students to complete the program this academic year. Utilizing the QVCC’s certificate program ensures that all new hires are coming into Westminster Tool with the same basic skill set.
Once an apprentice is hired, they become a member of Westminster Academy. Notably, apprentices are expected to take charge of documenting and developing their own training, under the watchful eye of a senior member of the manufacturing team. The apprentices are eager to learn, the company reports, and their documentation of the program helps identify tasks that might be incorrectly coined as “common knowledge” by senior members. This discovery has helped both apprentices and journeymen employees work together to compile a comprehensive training program to train future generations of employees.
To learn more about Westminster Tool (and the Westminster Academy), read this June issue feature article covering the factors that earned the company this year’s Lead Time Leader Award (includes video).