An Innovative Approach to Employee Training

This mold manufacturer looked within its own talent pool to develop—and implement—a new apprenticeship program to address the skilled workforce challenge.
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In today’s world of mold manufacturing, it is common knowledge that a workforce talent gap exists and moldmakers are challenged with finding skilled talent. Many companies are striving to provide solutions to this hurdle, and Rexam Mold Manufacturing (RMM; Buffalo Grove, IL) is no exception. The company has recently revamped its apprenticeship program to offer more comprehensive training with impressive results.

RMM is a fully integrated injection mold manufacturer specializing in close-tolerance, high-cavitation tooling to support the healthcare/home/personal care as well as the cap and closure markets. As a 90-plus man operation, RMM has the capacity to handle full turnkey programs—including part design, prototype, and build of pre-production and production molds—culminating with full mold and part qualifications.

Reasons for Revamping
According to RMM Sales Manager Jeffrey Barhoff, the company’s apprenticeship program has been around for years, but needed a fresher approach. “We began to implement major changes in 2006; and more recently, this year,” he explains. Before that time, the apprentices were classroom trained off-site at an independent outside training resource along with others within the industry. The students would then continue to work in the plant using the learned classroom skills.

Unfortunately, the overall numbers began to dwindle to the point where only two companies—Rexam being one—were sending trainees for classroom instruction. “It became cost-prohibitive to contract out the classroom portion of our program,” Barhoff notes. Enter veteran RMM moldmaker Jack Krikorian, with RMM for 17 years—who also happened to be a certified instructor for the industry, teaching for the Tool and Manufacturing Association, where he concentrates on second year related theory and hands-on CNC. He also previously taught under the Workforce Investment Act providing job training for the unemployed. “Jack began working on a comprehensive curriculum specifically for Rexam Mold Manufacturing,” Barhoff states. “The program is based on the NIMS (National Institute for Metalworking Skills) form of credentialing (see Rexam’s Five-Year Apprentice Program Sidebar, page xx).

Previously, RMM had a three-year apprenticeship program in place, but Barhoff points out that “the continued growing complexity of the automated mold manufacturing process at RMM” resulted in the company increasing the duration of the program to five years. “Len Graham who came on board as the Business Unit Leader for RMM in December of 2011, has been a very big advocate of the expansion of disciplines necessary to complete the apprenticeship program, which moved the duration from three to five years,” Barhoff elaborates. “It is critical for mold manufacturing leaders and manual/CNC machining technicians to not only learn about cutting steel using various pieces of equipment—but also to fully comprehend engineering prints, mathematics, machine programming and planning as part of the mold manufacturing leaders’ everyday tools.”

Program Highlights
The RMM apprenticeship program that Krikorian and his team put together in approximately six months’ time is now recognized by and registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, Barhoff notes. RMM submitted not only its moldmaking curriculum, but also a pay level matrix showing the various groupings in the shop, Barhoff explains. “Upon the successful completion of the program, each participant receives a Journeyman’s certificate for the official trade ‘Moldmaker/Mold Manufacturing Leader CAD/CAM’ from the U.S. Department of Labor.”

When an RMM employee begins the program, he spends a targeted six hours per week with a classroom instructor, learning about the many facets of moldmaking: equipment, techniques, cutter and wheel technology, procedures, safety, etc. “Overall, there are 16 specific areas where the candidate learns the basics,” Barhoff comments. “They have to demonstrate command of these processes by using that equipment to make a final mold part, matching a tooling print. That part is then inspected by RMM’s quality department—and approved.” This part of the program takes one to two months.

Once the part has been approved, an affidavit is sent to NIMS where the candidate then takes a written “online” test that has approximately 50 questions inside a 90-minute exam time. Each candidate looks to earn 16 machinists credentials over the five-year program. Barhoff notes the part inspection process and subsequent award is ongoing throughout the program.

The program’s third year covers CNC programming, set-up and operation. Once a student enters the fourth year, he will learn about advanced CNC milling and lathe, electrode manufacturing, introduction to automation and job management. The fifth year includes CAD/CAM and culminates with the aforementioned certificate being awarded at the end of the program.

Barhoff notes that Krikorian handles the classroom instructor while fellow lead moldmaker Cornell Ionita covers the “on-floor” direction. “Cornell will gather the candidates and review tooling prints and planning and explain how to execute those plans,” he says.

Barhoff points out that all of the instruction and teaching time that Krikorian and Ionita put in during the day is 100 percent subsidized by RMM. “In addition to these duties, both continue to shoulder their moldmaking and managing commitments on the shop floor,” he emphasizes. “They spend approximately 25 to 30 percent of their time committed to the apprenticeship program.”

Seamless Integration
The benefits of the program are many, Barhoff maintains. “We get to train personnel about the RMM way of building molds,” he emphasizes. “This certainly helps integrating these people into the mold manufacturing facility in a seamless fashion. It proves for a great reward program for our young committed employees, builds enthusiasm, and helps the morale of all employees to see enthusiastic people learning the trade. And, at the end of the program, we have a great employee who can now contribute to the company’s overall objective of better servicing our customers.

“All of our employees—not only the apprentices—continually learn on a day-to-day basis as the complexity of moldmaking increases with advancements in technology,” Barhoff continues. “Our employees have to operate in a team environment, providing consistency to our high level of quality, which is part of the apprenticeship training—where all contribute to the end product and no one can go off on an independent track.”

Barhoff notes that this program—which currently has four participants—will continue to evolve as the industry’s technology evolves. “As time moves on, more demands are placed on the mold manufacturing team members dealing with quality, timing and pricing,” Barhoff concludes. “Our employees are the most valuable asset in our company to control and improve these critical aspects of ‘what we do.’ Our commitment to an ever-improving apprenticeship program will help sustain and grow our current and future business, and support our endeavor be the leader in our industry for today and tomorrow.”

For More Information:
Rexam Mold Manufacturing / (978) 906-1127
jeff.barhoff@rexam.com / rexam.com/mold