Your Business: The Mold Shop Puzzle, Creating Constructive Change: Training Applied

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One mold manufacturer that was faced with the cold realities of adapting or getting eaten by its competition is United Tool and Mold, Inc. (Easley, SC).  UTM was founded as a mold builder, but struggled to find its niche in the extremely competitive moldmaking market. Owner Scott Phipps adopted the rhinoceros as the shop mascot and instilled the rhino spirit into how he approaches business.  UTM found that helping companies repair molds—built domestically or overseas—was just what the industry needed.

As UTM’s success grew, it became apparent that its future would rely on the superior knowledge of if employees when it comes to molds and the molding process—what UTM calls engineering on the fly.  It became painfully clear that the knowledge gap hit South Carolina hard and the number of people who had the heart, knowledge and skill to engineer and repair molds was very small.  There was no real remedy available in the educational system, and with technology increasing at exponential rates, the lack of trained, potential employees became a daily problem. While UTM was still experiencing a solid backlog, its future growth was stymied because of a lack of highly trained craftsmen.

The company recognized that if they do not train their own people, no one else will. They also planned for any future employees to be trained.  During the AMBA convention in Orlando last year, UTM connected with an online training company and started an internal program.  Each employee now has access to state-of –the-art information and is held responsible to learn about any new technologies and techniques. They also committed to growing their own trained employee base by hiring capable individuals who have the desire to learn.  

The expense of the training was then negated by the fact that UTM was in control of what was trained. Instead of a wait-and-see approach to new hires, they put a process in place to weed out those who didn’t have the knowledge necessary to compete in their market.

The first step of the training plan was assessing the critical needs of the company through a WorkKeys assessment of the positions needed.  UTM was then able to create a task list of critical areas of education and skills that could be used to test prospective employees.

Next was finalizing their apprenticeship program—a four-year career track that sees apprentices completing more than 7,600 on-the-job hours combined with 762 hours of in-classroom instruction. This engineering on the fly theory focuses on two areas—mold repair and CNC programming/operating—and is based on mechanical skill, critical thinking and trouble shooting.

Upon entering the program, each apprentice is grouped based on skill level.  The first three years of each program runs classroom instruction concurrently with on-the-job training. The final and most critical year sees the career paths branch out and become more skill specific.  

One person was placed in charge of the overall training and kept a pulse on each apprentice. UTM is thriving and believes that by training its own people in a unique and different way they will have control of their own destiny and will not have to rely on others or the government to fulfill their needs.

UTM believes that through understanding your own core competencies, educating employees in those competencies and relying on partnerships within the industry, all mold shops can compete in this global marketplace. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.