Westminster Tool closes the skills gap with Westminster Academy

August 14, 2014

Finding skilled employees for the moldmaking industry isn't easy. Just ask Westminster Tool, a precision mold manufacturer located in Plainfield, CT, specializing in innovative manufacturing solutions in plastics and composites. The company designs and builds molds for the aerospace, medical and industrial markets. After spending $15,000 in nine months on help-wanted ads for skilled moldmakers, Westminster received four applications. Two of those were from individuals who were retired and wanted something to keep them busy part-time. One decided that the cost of living was too high in Connecticut.

"Something had to be done, we are a growing company and we needed to meet the demands of our customers for shortened lead times," said Ray Coombs, president of Westminster Tool.

The company realized that it would have to train their own employees. Westminster Academy was created to address this need. The Academy focuses on creating training programs to duplicate all internal positions within the company. This has proven to be especially successful on the manufacturing floor. In conjunction with the Academy, Westminster has utilized a local non-profit organization, Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA) to build its relationships with local community colleges. The community colleges have been instrumental in working with area manufacturers to ensure they are providing relevant courses to apprentices, as well as courses that help incumbent workers improve their manufacturing skill sets.

Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC) established an Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program in 2012. Westminster Tool has since hired three graduates from QVCC's program, and is sponsoring two more students to complete the program this academic year. Utilizing the QVCC's certificate program ensures that all new hires are coming into Westminster Tool with the same basic skill set.

Once an apprentice is hired they become a member of Westminster Academy. The Academy takes a unique approach to developing the training program necessary to advance within the company. The initial intent of this program was to cultivate CNC-machinists and toolmakers. The newly hired apprentice is paired with a senior member of the manufacturing team and the apprentice is tasked with developing and documenting the training program. The apprentices are eager to learn, and their documentation of the program includes tasks that may be incorrectly coined as "common knowledge by senior members." This discovery has helped both apprentices and journeymen employees work together to compile a comprehensive training program to train future generations of employees.

Westminster Tool has made a significant investment in Westminster Academy. Coombs says, "Any of our competition can buy the same equipment that we have, but our people are the true differentiator." Like any investment, Westminster Academy was created with their customers in mind. Westminster Tool knows that as they grow the business they need to be able to add quality employees to their team of industry champions.  

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