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Westminster Tool commits $30,000 to tech center

Westminster Tool commits $30,000 to tech center
If you want skilled employees, you've got to stop complaining and help create skilled employees. That's the message that Ray Coombs Jr., president of Westminster Tool Inc. (Plainfield, CT), wants to send to his fellow mold manufacturers.  And he's backing it up with $30,000 contribution from his 25-employee company to fund and support the new Manufacturing Technology Center at Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC).

If you want skilled employees, you've got to stop complaining and help create skilled employees. That's the message that Ray Coombs Jr., president of Westminster Tool Inc. (Plainfield, CT), wants to send to his fellow mold manufacturers.  And he's backing it up with $30,000 contribution from his 25-employee company to fund and support the new Manufacturing Technology Center at Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC).

The new facility will be open for business this month, along with two additional Centers at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport and Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury.

These additional technology centers grew out of the successful Manufacturing Technology Center at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, CT. The Centers, established as part of the bipartisan Jobs Bill signed by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, will receive $17.8 million in funding. The new Manufacturing Technology Center is a member of the Quinebaug Manufacturing Institute (QMI), a not-for-profit organization between QVCC and local industry members.

Westminster Tool
Left to right: Ray Coombs, president of Westminster Tool and QMI; Ross Tomlin, president of QVCC; and Mark Vesligaj, director of the Manufacturing Center and Engineering.
Funding such initiatives is crucial to the overall success of local manufacturing companies, and Coombs, who started the company 10 years ago and also serves as the president of the QMI, has always had a passion for both the community and education. Currently there are 15 companies in the QMI, which meets nine times a year and advises the college on what they need to teach to meet the needs of the local manufacturers.

"Whining about the skills gap doesn't do any good," Coombs told PlasticsToday. "We're not going to complain about it - we're going to do something about it, which is why we chose to align ourselves with these colleges. Everyone talks about the skills gap, but we now have a vehicle that will train people in true manufacturing skills, lean systems, quality, even blueprint reading (nobody's teaching this anymore), and if they want to continue they'll get into a fully-degreed program."

With the new Manufacturing Technical Center set to open this month, there are 38 students signed up for the program, which can take up to 50 students. Coombs noted that the demographics of the students are interesting, ranging from displaced workers, a retired trade school teacher with an electrical background who wants to learn something new, to a few students coming right out of the local Plainfield High School who heard about the program at the Manufacturing Expo at the school.  

"These people are passionate and want a good job," Coombs noted. "We're hiring many of these young people from the Associate's engineering technology degree program and turning them into class A machinists. We currently have four employees from the program who've become very successful."

Westminster Tool's involvement in the QMI and the QVCC is a "business strategy" to help the company get the "brightest and best" of those who are attending classes. As he visits QVCC, he gets to know the students so that when they are ready to begin working they can start their careers at Westminster. "The contribution we made to QVCC is an investment, and the return on that is the quality of individuals that join our team," Coombs noted.

Relationships between manufacturers and community colleges are crucial to the success and advancement of manufacturing in the USA. According to Dr. Ross Tomlin, president of QVCC, "These kinds of relationships are what colleges survive on. Enthusiasm like Ray's is infectious and encourages the whole community to be as passionate about individuals with the desired skill sets of the industry."

Westminster Tool has enrolled one of its newest employees in the Manufacturing Machine Technology certificate program at QVCC. "I not only get to support the program, but I get to save money by not having another employee train him," Coombs stated. "The training he will get from the program is unmatched to that he would get here. I don't just want to train him - I want to educate him, which this program will do."

Coombs encourages all of his peers in the mold manufacturing industry to get involved with their state governments, local community colleges and technical schools. "We're all busy - I've got a business to run as well," he commented, "but those of us in manufacturing have government's ear now, so we need to mobilize come together with a unified voice. There are always a million reasons why you can't get involved but there are also a million reasons why you need to be involved!"

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