There must be something in the water in Vermont. Two well-known and successful Vermont injection molding companies, Mack Molding (Arlington) and GW Plastics (Bethel), have stepped up to the plate with training and education programs to help promote opportunities in the area's manufacturing industry. Like most molders and moldmakers throughout the United States, Mack and GW are acutely aware that they must do their part to ensure there is a steady supply of skilled workers.
In response to a growing regional and national skilled labor shortage, GW Plastics is proactively leading the way in workforce training, career development and community educational outreach through its innovative high school program. This month, GW Plastics celebrated the graduation of its second "School of Tech" class and proudly announced the steady growth of the program.
The School of Tech was started in 2015 after two years of planning with local, state and school officials. The semester-long program focuses on raising awareness among young people about careers in advanced manufacturing. "It is very difficult to find a high school shop class that provides relevant training for our industry," said Cathy Tempesta, GW Plastics' Director of Human Resources. "There are limited ways for students to become exposed to the world of manufacturing, so we launched our own ‘school' in order to make manufacturing attractive again."
GW Plastics recruits employees in collaboration with high school teachers to instruct the students on all things manufacturing, including polymer science, product design, mold building, injection molding, automation, quality assurance and general business skills. Each semester includes a visit to Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, where the students can see GW Plastics' healthcare products used in real life situations and learn about the ramifications if a device is not manufactured to the highest level of quality possible.
In just two semesters, the GW program has grown in popularity and includes actual interaction with advanced machine tools, molding machines and other technologies instead of just classroom instruction. This semester's students took it a step further: By the end of the course, not only had they studied manufacturing techniques, but they had also designed and manufactured their own product—cell phone holders, which are now being sold at their school. This real-life process helps the students understand everything from concept through production including the satisfaction of bringing a product to market.
"We could not be more thrilled that these students are as engaged as they are in this program," said Tempesta. "Most of these students have never been in a manufacturing environment before, and now they have successfully designed and manufactured their own product. These experiences that the students are now able to list on a further college or job application are unparalleled."
GW already has plans to expand the second School of Tech program, with the next semester of students starting at the end of January. Additionally, GW has also broken ground on its Royalton, VT, site expansion, which will allow for extra classrooms and enhanced training facilities for the students to use.
Brenan Riehl, GW Plastics President and CEO, stated, "We are delighted to be able to give back to our community and our local students to help them prepare for wherever their career interests take them. Our investment in these students and commitment to this program run deep, and we are thrilled to have both the facilities and the volunteer staff to help expand our program and restore excitement to a career in manufacturing."
|Seventh graders observe an assembly line at Mack Molding.|
The students were participating in the Long Trail School's own Made in Vermont program, in which sixth, seventh and eighth graders visited several regional businesses to gain an appreciation for how the businesses operate.
"We wanted students to see how local businesses take an idea from inception—that is, identifying a problem or need—through design to the creation of a product to sales and marketing, and ultimately how it gets to the consumer," said Long Trail's Dean of Faculty Jim Gedney. "This was a great opportunity for experiential learning, which the students received outside of the classroom context through adults in the business world."
Gedney added that at the conclusion of the visits students executed on their new knowledge by coming up with prototype products and pitches in the spirit of ABC's popular Shark Tank TV show. In all, students visited eight businesses for inspiration.
The Long Trail visit is just part of Mack's longstanding commitment to encouraging Vermont's best and brightest to use their talents to benefit the communities they call home, as well as the businesses that share them. The hallmark of Mack's efforts is an internship program in which students work on meaningful projects that help move the business forward while giving them a significant achievement for their portfolios and resumes.
Mack's Somple added, "We are quickly approaching 100 students who have been through the Mack internship program. We are now seeing some students return, which is truly rewarding not only because it validates our efforts, but because we see someone turn into a promising professional. We hope we played our small part."