Sarah Keller & Max Nelson  | June 15, 2018

Future Proofing: How a Fast Food Worker Helped a Sheet Metal Company Rethink its Business

“Future-Proofing” features U.S. businesses, big and small, investing in the workforce of tomorrow. Check  out more at Forwardontalent.org

It had been 60 days, and Traci Tapani had a problem.

The co-owner of the Wyoming Machine sheet metal company in Stacy, Minnesota that makes armored Humvees, steel spokes and other manufactured parts, Tapani posted an ad to fill a production job at their plant. Two months later she didn’t get a single applicant.

Hiring skilled welders and laser operators was already tough. And in the manufacturing space winning the heated competition for good workers could mean the difference between profitability and closing the door.

The problem isn’t unique to them. The American Welding Society anticipates a shortage of about 400,000 operators by 2024. In fact, over the next decade, 22% of skilled manufacturing workers will retire. And the industry is projected to fall a startling 2 million workers short of its need.

But Tapani and Wyoming didn’t take the bad news laying down. Instead, the family decided to get creative by taking a chance on nontraditional job seekers like a former store manager at McDonald’s. It worked, and it was one of the first steps to completely changing how the company evaluates talent.

FreeEnterprise.com spoke to Tapani about their advice on changing the perception of manufacturing, raising awareness of the opportunities in the industry and providing training for employeesthings that have allowed them to become known nationwide for their ingenuity. Here’s what she said:

1. Reimagine What People Can Do

“Consider a waitress. They already do physical work, moving around all day, lifting and things. They need to be able to respond to demands in the workplace,” said Tapani. “All of this happens in a manufacturing environment. If you’re willing to consider others, you can see what they’re bringing to the table.”

“We’ve learned to give others a chance. If they come to work and express an interest to learn, we’ll provide them with the training. If you consider people from other industries, you can take what they have and build upon it.”

2. Change How you are Perceived

“The perception of manufacturing as a dark, dangerous, and dirty profession was outdated. The best way to change it was to bring people into our facilities,” said Tapani.

“We’ve conducted a number of outreach initiatives including a day for local high school students to visit and learn about careers in manufacturing, working with a program for 6th-grade girls to introduce them to STEM careers. We are also very active in career fairs and more.”

3. Invest in Community Partnerships

“About 20 years ago we began partnering with other manufacturers in our geographical area and with Pine Technical and Community College. The College would facilitate and host meetings where we could discuss the future of the manufacturing workforce and the skills gap. We worked together to bring students to the college to talk about careers in manufacturing and opened our doors to offer tours.”

4. Invest in your Current Employees

“We also noticed that many people lacked basic math and blueprint reading skills.  We partnered with Pine Technical and Community College to develop customized training to address those needs, giving them access to college credit courses.”

“Investment in this educational partnership enables us to attract, develop, and retain a workforce that is prepared for the changing needs of modern manufacturing while enhancing the lives of people through skill development and expanded career opportunities.”

5. Be Creative, and Don’t Give up

“From a pure manufacturing skills perspective, this is the worst gap we’ve ever seen.”

“The thing that has changed for us, because of this solution, is giving others a chance.”

“The program is repeatable and has been a wonderful opportunity for companies that are in rural communities. This program has allowed us to hire people based on their qualities rather than direct manufacturing qualifications.”

“We can measure the number of people that have received education training. We can also measure the number of people in our organization that have advanced to upper-level manufacturing positions that started their career here with little to no experience at all.”

**Wyoming Machine is one of many U.S. businesses rethinking education and workforce issues in the U.S. Check out ForwardonTalent.org for more stories of cool companies doing cool things to strengthen the country’s workforce.