The nationwide labor shortage and skills gap in the manufacturing sector hits a company like GW Plastics (Bethel, VT) especially hard. Located in the rural Green Mountains of Vermont and determined to remain in the state while it continues to grow its international business, GW realized early on that it needed to take preemptive action to maintain a pipeline of skilled, young workers in the region. In 2012, the company began a partnership with Vermont Technical College to develop a curriculum designed to achieve that. In recognition of the company’s contribution to Vermont’s economy since its founding more than 60 years ago, GW Plastics this year was inducted into the Vermont Business Hall of Fame. The company deserves equal praise, however, for its forward-thinking program to build a regional skilled workforce.
GW Plastics celebrated the graduation of its second Manufacturing Technology Leadership Program (MTLP) class this year. The MTLP was founded in 2012 to address the skilled labor shortage.
The Vermont Business Hall of Fame recognizes previous recipients of the Deane C. Davis Outstanding Business of the Year Award. Named for the former governor, this annual award honors a Vermont business that shows an outstanding history of sustained growth while displaying an acute awareness of what makes Vermont unique, said the announcement. GW Plastics received that award in 2012, and this year it is one of five previous Outstanding Business Award winners to be inducted into the Vermont Business Hall of Fame at the University of Vermont Grossman School of Business in Burlington.
GW Plastics has been a staple in Vermont’s technical landscape for more than 60 years, manufacturing lifesaving, safety-critical products for the healthcare and automotive industries. While expanding internationally over the decades, GW Plastics has also remained dedicated to growing in Vermont, with multiple expansions of its Bethel headquarters and Royalton Manufacturing and Technology Center, and the creation of innovative, local workforce development programs to address the national technical labor shortage, said the company.
In addition to being inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, this year marked a milestone in GW’s workforce development efforts—the graduation of its second Manufacturing Technology Leadership Program (MTLP) class.
The MTLP was founded in 2012 to address the skilled labor shortage. In partnership with Vermont Technical College, GW Plastics offers its employees a four-year, hands-on educational program focusing on the skills necessary to be successful in advanced manufacturing.
While working full time at GW Plastics, MTLP participants enroll in two manufacturing, engineering or technology classes per year at Vermont Tech, culminating in a final project that is selected based on improvements needed in their areas of responsibility at GW. MTLP graduates earn college credits that can be applied toward an associate degree in engineering technology. In addition to receiving college courses funded by GW Plastics, every graduate is awarded a bonus after each class and a 10% pay increase upon program graduation. After completing the MTLP, participants can utilize GW Plastics’ tuition reimbursement program to finish their degree at no cost. Through the MTLP program, GW Plastics has now funded nine engineering degrees over the past eight years.
“The partnership with Vermont Tech helps our company become more competitive. Investing in our associates increases their skills, brings new ideas and increases their productivity,” said Brenan Riehl, GW Plastics President and CEO. “A vital part of the program for GW Plastics is the confidence and leadership skills each of our associates gains in the process.”
GW Plastics added that it has partnered with Vermont Technical College on many workforce development initiatives, including a GW-funded scholarship and paid summer internship program for engineering students, allowing them the possibility to graduate debt-free. In addition to funding education and providing real work experience, the company also helped to fund the GW Plastics Advanced Manufacturing Lab on campus for continued hands-on manufacturing experience in the classroom.
This year, GW Plastics hired three engineering students directly upon graduation from Vermont Tech in the areas of quality, mold-making, and operations. One of the new hires, Greg Johnson, was a GW scholarship winner and summer intern, and has now joined his father, 27-year engineering veteran Bill Johnson, as a full-time engineer at GW Plastics. GW now employs over 20 Vermont Tech graduates.
Amid all this activity, GW Plastics continues on its growth trajectory, breaking ground recently on a 30,000-square-foot expansion of its thermoplastic injection molding and medical device contract assembly business at its Royalton Manufacturing and Technology Center. The company will add another Class 8 cleanroom capable of housing an additional 30 injection molding machines. It expects to add more than 30 new jobs and invest over $10,000,000 in construction, new technology and equipment.