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We often read about companies that start apprenticeship programs in partnership with their local high schools and technical or community colleges. But Custom Profile, a plastic profile extrusion company in Grand Rapids, MI, has taken a big leap—geographically—to form an alliance with a technical high school in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, TX.

Clare Goldsberry

January 11, 2016

4 Min Read
Extruder Custom Profile launches partnership with Mexico high school

With Mexico's booming manufacturing sector, which includes plastics processing companies as well as OEMs from across industry sectors, Mexico has been proactive with training its large, young population in workforce skills required to meet the needs of manufacturers. A high school in Juarez, CECyTECH No. 22, has a science- and technology-focused curriculum, with a plastic extrusion module built into its plastics program. The high school offers two technical paths, one of which is devoted to plastics technology, and different processing segments, including injection molding, extrusion and blow molding.

Custom Profile

Custom Profile Production Manager Carlos
Nevarez gives local high-school students a
tour of the company's plant in Ciudad 
Juarez, Mexico.

Custom Profile opened its Juarez facility in 2008 to support its customer base in Mexico. It has decided to partner with the school to help support specific curriculum development and to provide students with dedicated machine hours to learn about the extrusion process. According to Kevin Richardson, Plant Manager at the Juarez facility, the first class of students to learn about extrusion started this past fall. "There were 80 students in that first group, and the plan is to continue the program further," Richardson told PlasticsToday. "There's talk of even helping the students find jobs after completing the program."

The high school is developing a hands-on curriculum that Custom Profile supports for extrusion training. Richardson explains that the students come into the plant, watch the operations of the facility and get acquainted with the various pieces of equipment and how they work. "When they finish high school, they'll have knowledge of the various plastics processes, which should make it easier for them to find work," he said.

Currently the Juarez facility has 90 employees working three shifts, serving primarily the appliance industry, with five extrusion lines and a sixth one planned for the near future.

Christa Bird, Chief People Officer for the company, told PlasticsToday that these programs are not new to Custom Profile. The Grand Rapids facility has been working with the local community in several ways to attract young people into the plastics industry. "We've put a tremendous amount of effort and energy into developing partnerships throughout the community to educate millennials about a rewarding career in plastics. These collaborations will provide us with future candidates necessary to sustain our business growth," said Bird.

The Grand Rapids facility currently has 170 employees on three shifts. The plant operates 18 extrusion lines, along with value-add operations such as assembly, packaging, sonic welding, CNC routing and other offline processes.

Grand Rapids HR Manager Jenny Redes puts in a lot of time with local schools, even elementary schools, and organizations such as Junior Achievement. "We tour high school students and guidance counselors so they can see what we do," said Redes. "We do a lot to get out there and show there are exciting things happening in our plant; that making stuff is cool! Definitely there are a lot of people who like to know how things are put together. It gives our company a lot of exposure and helps us attract potential candidates for our apprenticeship program."

The company's apprentice program combines 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with two Grand Rapids Community College classes and is certified by the Department of Labor. Individuals enrolled in the program can receive an Extruder Operator Certificate upon completion. "The extruder operator, who understands set-up, is one of the most difficult positions we have to fill. Typically they work as an operator first, so that they learn both aspects of the extrusion process," said Redes. "We have 10 people currently in the program and have approval for up to 14. We need to find people who want to be in manufacturing and who are committed to education on their own time."

Founded in 1992, Custom Profile is a portfolio company of private equity firm Blackford Capital. John Boeschenstein, CEO of Custom Profile, said the company continues to build on its mission of providing customers with exceptional service and high-quality products, without sacrificing its commitment to people or the community. "We feel that we have a responsibility to educate and support our local communities, whether in Grand Rapids or Juarez. We hope the community relationships we have built prove as rewarding to our partners as they have for us," he stated.

Richardson expressed the same sentiment regarding the partnership with the CECyTECH No. 22 high school program in Juarez: "We're just happy to have an opportunity to support the community, and it's exciting to see the students excited about manufacturing."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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