Closing the Skills Gap: Processors, MBA students team up

By Clare Goldsberry
Published: September 12th, 2013

The push to develop the next generation of plastics industry employees who can help companies meet the competitive challenges of tomorrow is resulting in collaborative efforts between industry and universities. But it’s not just the skilled trades on which companies are focused, rather, giving students in MBA programs exposure to the management opportunities that manufacturing companies offer in today’s competitive environment.
   
Currier Plastics (www.currierplastics.com), an Auburn, NY custom injection molding company, is currently working with graduate students from Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management and L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science on a course that will concentrate on Six Sigma’s “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control” (DMAIC) process. The students, from the Master of Supply Chain Management (SCM), Master of Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Engineering Management (MSEM) programs, began their class at the Currier Plastics facility at the end of August.
   
The student team will target the manufacturing process at Currier’s facility and work to identify the best methods for repeatability of the manufacturing process using Six Sigma, a set of tools and strategies for process improvement developed by Motorola in 1981. Using quality planning, quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement, the team’s goal is to find ways to improve the molder’s quality by identifying and removing the causes of defects.
   
“It’s our way to improve on our process control plan while at the same time helping future industry professionals,” said Scott Reilly, Currier’s continuous improvement coordinator.
   
Beginning in fall 2014, the Whitman School will offer a one-year, 30-credit Master of SCM with the Lean Six Sigma course as its capstone. Similarly, Whitman’s full-time MBA students must complete a minimum of six experiential credits before graduation.
   
“The two most popular ways of meeting the requirement are to take an internship for academic credit or to enroll in an experiential course which has a real-world project in it,” commented Amy McHale, Whitman’s director of experiential learning. “We typically field six to eight projects each fall. These have ranged from manufacturing problems to hospital processes and procedures. We’ve done approximately 15 projects over the past several years.”
   
Tech Molded Plastics Inc. (www.ttmp.com), a custom injection molder in Meadville, PA, has a similar relationship with Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. The company hosted a team of MBA students from the Smeal College of Business (www.smeal.psu.edu/apex) in order to gain fresh perspectives and analysis from a student team with a wide range of talents. The resulting relationship provided real-world business experience through the Smeal MBA Program’s Applied Professional Experience Program (APEX).
   
Through the APEX program, teams of MBA students and their clients collaborate over 14 weeks to tackle challenges provided by client firms. The students of the APEX program worked closely with the staff at Tech from December of 2012 through April 2013 to prepare a consulting report which served as a capstone project for their MBA experience. The project produced several concrete outcomes, including an analysis of potential market opportunities related to Tech’s precision manufacturing services.
   
Markets were analyzed for growth based on profit potential, strategic fit, cost of market entry, and business/market risk. Then a go-to-market strategy was proposed for one key market segment that contained the highest weighted scorecard for return on investment coupled with a comprehensive implementation plan and supporting rationale. The project pitch was laid out for Tech’s senior management staff with visual metrics and documentation to reinforce their proposal. Immediately following the presentation, Tech Molded Plastics began to implement targeted recommendations.
   
“Success is rarely achieved through complacency,” stated Mark Hanaway, VP at Tech Molded Plastics, who serves as Tech’s primary facilitator in the partnership with the MBA student team. “The objective was designed to challenge our strategic plans, business development goals and business management ideals by engaging well-educated minds that have not been seasoned by day-to-day workplace norms.
   
“I was impressed at the depth of understanding and level of commitment that the team members used to formulate proposals, recommendations and assertions in advancing a business model. The APEX team was not merely working on a class project; they owned the results to achieve success and performed well beyond expectations.”

Tech Molded Plastics’ partnership with the Penn State Smeal MBA Program marked a continuing commitment to partner with educational institutions to provide exposure to precision manufacturing careers. In addition to recent involvement with the Smeal College of Business, Tech has offered internships to students at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, and has hosted conferences with students in the Plastics Engineering Program at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College.

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