Add skills to your skilled workforce

Tech college flexibility helps engineers, skilled workers continue education.

By Steve Staedler August 9, 2019

Like many manufacturing companies, InSinkErator faces the challenge of finding trained workers with the right technical skills to staff its three daily shifts.

Headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, InSinkErator is the world’s largest manufacturer of food waste disposers for home and commercial use. Remaining the dominant player requires employees with specific technical skill sets.

The job market for employees with those skills is extremely competitive. As the hunt for skilled workers heats up, InSinkErator is taking a proactive approach in identifying potential candidates for key positions. The solution is a creative partnership with Gateway Technical College’s SC Johnson iMET Center, which trains, and in some cases, retrains InSinkErator employees for apprenticeships and leadership positions.

Leveraging partnerships

“The intent behind our partnership with Gateway was, ‘How can we create a career path for our hourly production employees and move them into a long-term career with stability and good pay, and use a skill set they already have an aptitude for, but haven’t pursued it or fully realized where that aptitude could take them?’” said Jessica Tiefenthaler, human resources director at InSinkErator.

The curriculum used was co-created by industry leaders in the automotive, energy, aviation, manufacturing and building trade industries. One training partner is a neighbor and a fellow leader in technical education, Snap-on Tools, in Kenosha, Wis. Snap-on’s Technical Education Program aims to partner with community colleges, technical schools and high schools to help train the next generation of technicians working in the industry sectors cited above. Snap-on developed a certification program for specific disciplines that colleges and schools can teach to students.

iMET, which stands for Integration of Manufacturing and Engineering Technologies, is in Sturtevant, Wis., and is the region’s first flexible manufacturing lab dedicated to training manufacturing workers. It is also a catalyst to help local businesses, economic groups and entrepreneurs.

The iMET Center is part of Kenosha, Wis.-based Gateway Technical College, an institution that offers 65 educational programs and serves more than 21,000 students annually from its nine campuses in Southeast Wisconsin.

InSinkErator and Gateway Technical College worked closely with the iMET Center to develop a curriculum that gives its employees, such as tool and die makers, electricians, electromechanical technicians and others, the skills InSinkErator requires. Students get hands-on training in emerging technologies using state of the art tools and equipment. They learn the skills and technical expertise needed to excel at InSinkErator.

The program uses Snap-on’s technical education certification training. It combines STEM-oriented instruction with third-party skill certifications. Certifications relate directly to classes, which include precision measurement, blueprint reading, two levels of applied math and several other higher-level electromechanical and technical courses. Upon module completion, the learner acquires a stackable, industry-recognized, third-party certification. Certifications prove that students possess the skills required to be immediately productive.

Course load

Courses offered at iMET Center follow a traditional semester schedule. But when students are working full time, added flexibility is occasionally needed, which is why some classes are taught onsite at InSinkErator.

“We basically have a classroom at InSinkErator where we do a lot of training,” said Gregory Chapman, instructor – mechanical design, iMET Center.

“Just the fact that they’re willing to have their professors come here is positive feedback I hear often from employees,” Tiefenthaler said. “Gateway has been extremely flexible and open to new ideas.”

Tiefenthaler pointed to development of a two-semester certification program for its electromechanical technicians as a strong example of collaboration between the company and Gateway Technical College. This past semester, InSinkErator sent four of its techs through the program, which was specially scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For the techs working second shift, the company found other workers to cover their time spent in class. If time in class is outside their normal shift, the company compensates them to attend the course. InSinkErator also follows this model in facilitating other classes, such as for programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

Retention tool

“The education program has become a retention tool, and I think it’s become a succession planning tool as well,” Tiefenthaler said. “The continuous education demonstrates that we’re invested in our people; we care about each of them as individuals, and we want to help them achieve and be successful here for the long term.”

Many students who attend classes at the iMET Center are professionals pursuing continuing education to obtain certifications required for their careers. AutoCAD, SolidWorks, soldering, precision measurement and robotics are some of the more popular courses offered at the iMET Center.

“Most folks who come here are doing so to get their skills back up. They may have not used a micrometer or caliper in a long time, so they’re looking to get a certification, and a manufacturer’s certification in a particular area as well,” said Jill Sammons, electrical engineering technology instructor at iMET Center. “If they went to a theory-based school, they may not have worked on robotics. Getting your hands-on things like drills, tools and hammers is, in my opinion, a more direct way to learn things. Gaining experience is one of the greatest things about Gateway. We provide the real experience they need.”

Gateway Technical College partners with several local companies to develop industry certifications for specific disciplines. In addition to Snap-on, Starrett, Trane and Greenlee, among others, have certification courses integrated into Gateway’s existing course curriculum. These partnerships bring private-sector industry knowledge and expertise to Gateway’s degreed programs and courses, as well as skills needed in the workplace.

“It’s not just saying, ‘I have a Gateway certification.’ It’s the manufacturer saying that you have the certification. It says you have the knowledge to a certain level, and that’s important to employers,” Chapman said.

Each certification meets the expectations of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), a network of education providers and corporations that support and validate new and emerging technology skills within several industrial markets.

“Our goal at NC3 is to meet the ever-changing technical needs of employers across the country,” said Dan Ramirez, associate director, NC3. “There’s a skills gap of at least 4 million jobs across the United States that can’t get filled because employer needs don’t match the skills of those coming out of technical programs. We want to work with industry partners to help build the certifications that ensure students coming out of technical programs are job ready.”

Whether people are looking to advance in their profession, or change careers entirely, Chapman encourages people to not be intimidated about the prospect of going back to school.

“Don’t overlook your local community or technical college, as you’d be surprised at how flexible it may be and the number of diverse programs being offered,” he said.

InSinkErator has been based in Racine for 80 years and plans to stay in the area for generations to come. Collaborating with Gateway and the iMET Center helps ensure the company has the skilled workforce to make that happen.

“I don’t think we could do this without the partnership we have with Gateway,” Tiefenthaler said. “They have their semester planned, and I come to them with a late class request, and they accommodate us. They’ve been a great partner and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Author Bio: Steve Staedler is a senior account executive at LePoidevin Marketing, a Brookfield, Wisconsin-based business-to-business marketing firm that specializes in tooling and technical education industries.