Blazing Multiple Trails to Successful Recruitment and Training

Several mold manufacturing companies have shared how their workforce development strategies have evolved to meet the needs of today’s industry. Here, MSI Mold Builders describes its apprenticeship program, its collaboration with nearby schools and its approach to generating interest in the industry and then in MSI Mold Builders as a place to foster a career.

MSI Mold Builders (MSI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has a system in place for attracting, recruiting and training new talent that will become its lifeblood for the future. This three-time Leadtime Leader honoree has shared many of its best practices in features published by MoldMaking Technology but until now has only provided a glance into its workforce development program.

It should be noted that at this year’s American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) annual conference, MSI became the second recipient of the organization’s national Tooling Trailblazer Award. AMBA uses the award to honor a member shop that has made a notable impact on the industry through various educational outreach programs. Along with an award to display, MSI also received a $5,000 scholarship check from Progressive Components (Wauconda, Illinois) and has donated it to Kirkwood Community College (KCC), a Cedar Rapids-based institution with which MSI has had a longtime partnership supporting advanced manufacturing and CNC education programs. “It feels great to win this award, especially because it comes from the AMBA and our peers,” MSI President Roger Klouda says. “A lot of companies are working hard to promote moldmaking and advanced manufacturing careers at the educational institute level, and for AMBA to recognize us among this group is extra special.”

A lot of companies are working hard to promote moldmaking and advanced manufacturing careers at the educational institute level, and for AMBA to recognize us among this group is extra special.

Klouda says that historically, MSI’s relationship with KCC goes back at least 40 years and that a good percentage of his employees have come through the training there. “A lot has changed since the early years. Back then, more traditional training was available. Today, people are more specialized in the jobs that they do,” he says. “In fact, to stay alive years ago when there were not enough mold shops in the area to have much of a formal apprenticeship program, the companies that were here got together and worked with the State of Iowa to organize training via the Iowa Cable Network (ICN).” He explains that through this collaboration, several high schools and colleges worked together to provide live training over closed circuit television. “Apprentices had direct interaction with the instructors. We would have an apprentice in Fort Dodge or five apprentices from Cedar Rapids, one in Belle Plaine, two more in Des Moines and different people from different companies trained everyone over the ICN. It worked really well until about 2000 when the industry went to hell and everyone stopped hiring.”

Klouda says that in 2001, MSI made the transition from a trade-based to a production-based system when the company assessed and reassigned employees to departments where the employees could specialize and excel. The company’s apprenticeship program evolved as well, and by about 2008, it became the intern-type program that is in place today.

MSI’s intern-style program is like more traditional apprenticeships in that new recruits are expected to attend classes at KCC or another approved local college while also gaining hands-on experience in the shop. But, that is where the similarity ends.

“Apprentices are required to work a minimum of 15 hours per week at MSI and attend at least 90 percent of their classes while maintaining a grade of B or above in every class,” Dale Larsen, MSI’s human resources director, says. “That's the bare minimum requirement for being hired for a part-time internship here. When we hire an intern, we will support his or her training all the way through two years of training (or three years if he or she starts as a high school senior) after we have been able to assess how the intern balances class load, workload—really the whole work-class-life balance.” Larsen adds that when the intern reaches the final semester at KCC and is performing well and learning well, there could be an opportunity to become full-time, working more than 30 hours per week and getting full-time benefits.

Klouda adds, “KCC has a number of endowed scholarship funds so that almost any kid who enrolls in the CNC program is going to get a scholarship. MSI pays 100 percent of what is not covered by scholarships.”

For its working students, ​MSI has a dedicated cell composed of all Haas CNC machines for making mold components. The main reason for this is the college teaches them on the same equipment. “They come here from class and they can go to work immediately on these machines,” Eric Kolsto, production manager at MSI, says. “They know how to run them, so no training is required in that regard, and that is by design so that they can just move from machine to machine and it is seamless. Granted, they are building a lot of low-value parts, and it's structured that way on purpose because that's how we want them to cut their teeth, so to speak. If they make a mistake, we're scrapping a $10 part versus scrapping steel that is worth tens of thousands of dollars.”

They are building a lot of low-value parts, and it's structured that way on purpose because that's how we want them to cut their teeth, so to speak. If they make a mistake, we're scrapping a $10 part versus scrapping steel that is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Over the years, MSI has had as many as 11 interns training to become moldmakers. Currently, five are at its Cedar Rapids headquarters, and two are at its Greenville, South Carolina, facility. At times, the company has had interns that are not interested in becoming moldmakers but are important to every other area of the business. “We’ve recently hired IT interns who assisted with web design. We’ve also hired industrial maintenance interns and mechanical and industrial engineering interns,” Larsen says. “Then, we may do a 90-hour internship with high school students in a number of areas like administration or sales and marketing or things like that. We also host half-day or all-day job shadows and have had parents ask if their son or daughter can hang out with us and see what we do. It's all about trying to generate interest in the manufacturing industry and then in MSI.”

MSI places the informal expectation on interns that they replace themselves after a year of training by recommending fellow students at KCC. “We want the program to be self-sustaining. In addition to having a very good relationship with the CNC instructor at the college, who alerts us to potential candidates, our current interns tend to know who might be good at what we do,” Larsen says. The company has gained several interns as a direct result. MSI also hosts frequent tours at its Cedar Rapids plant. “Last year, I brought more than 400 college and high school students, their teachers and parents through our facility, explaining everything that we do, how it works and what it takes to get into this field,” Larsen says. “Parents are one of the most important spheres of influence for anyone we are trying to bring into this industry—particularly mothers. We believe so strongly in what we do, and we are always willing to invite parents to meet with us. Honestly, it goes extremely well probably 95 percent of the time.”