Training to Stay Ahead

Brian Sandalow, Associate Editor

It’s one thing to be born with a certain skill. But having ability will only take somebody so far, whether it’s hitting a baseball or being the best foundry worker possible.

Leading metalcasters across the country recognize the importance of training their workers beyond the minimum requirements. They don’t want their staff to let their skills get stale or old, but rather stay contemporary and always eager for new knowledge.

Though this is a goal for any good company, the strategies are different for workers at different stages of their careers. As this article shows, it’s beneficial to reward new workers who have trained successfully and to also make sure veterans continue an upward climb.

Oil City Iron Works (Corsicana, Texas)
AFS Corporate Member Oil City Iron Works (Corsicana, Texas) wants new employees to spend the rest of a successful career at the company. When someone takes a step toward that goal, Oil City Iron Works makes sure to mark the occasion.

Starting about a year ago, Oil City Iron Works has been designating new workers during their 90-day probationary by having them wear green hats so they can be distinguished from the more-experienced staff members. Over this time, the new employees get on-the-job training, are required to progress in skill level, and are evaluated weekly for four weeks and then again at 90 days. If the new employee has successfully navigated those three months, Oil City Iron Works holds an informal short ceremony where the worker’s supervisor and the vice president of manufacturing give them a blue hard hat as they “graduate” to become a full-time employee.

The switch from green to blue hats turned into a ceremony only a few months ago. It happened when a woman who runs a green sand muller reminded plant superintendent/safety coordinator Cliff Bryant that it was her day to get a blue hat. At that point, graduates were just getting their new hats (and a pay increase) with little fanfare, but this new hire told Bryant to make sure her supervisor would give her the new gear. Bryant complied, and that got him thinking about what the blue hat means.

“Is there something to the blue hat? To me it’s just a color hat,” Bryant said. “I’m thinking, maybe there’s something to it. Maybe we should do more.”

Bryant thought back to when he was in the Marine Corps when his battalion or company would have special ceremonies for promotions or other recognitions where the commanding officer would present the honor. He said those ceremonies didn’t last long, but the formal recognition “made you feel good. It will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

And an idea was born for Oil City Iron Works.

“I thought, what if we did something like that here? Just a short ceremony and we exchange hats,” Bryant said. “They turn in their green hat. They get the blue hat. I read a short statement about how they add value.”

The first ceremony was over the summer and not too many people showed up to the voluntary event. But as word spread about the events, attendance has grown steadily.

“It’s something that is earned and not just given,” Bryant said. “They have to contribute.”

The importance of these events is easy to see.

“I think the value is becoming part of the family here, where you’ve made it to a certain point and you’re doing the job and you’re continuing to grow,” Bryant said. “When we hire people, we want them to retire here. We don’t just want them to come and go. We’re looking for those good people to come and learn and stay and contribute and add value to our company and our product.

“It’s a little bit of recognition to say they’ve made it.”

It’s also cool for the trainer to watch one of their protégés take the next step in their careers.

“My guy that I mentored and trained, he made it,” Bryant said. “I think it’s good for the whole company, even those of us who have been here for quite a few years.”

C.A. Lawton (DePere, Wisconsin)
AFS Corporate Member C.A. Lawton is always trying to improve itself. So whenever the facility is eligible for a Workforce Advancement Training (WAT) grant, the company takes advantage.

In partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), C.A. Lawton was recently awarded a WAT grant, which provides funds from the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) that are aimed at developing workers, improving productivity and competitiveness, and expanding the partnerships between Wisconsin’s technical colleges and businesses. Grants are awarded to upgrade the skills and productivity of employees of established businesses operating in Wisconsin, with the additional objective of supporting regional workforce and economic development efforts. Training under these grants focus on occupational skills, but can include a combination of occupational, academic and employability topics or courses.

C.A. Lawton is teaming with the Corporate Training & Economic Development (CTED) department of NWTC to develop training on 10 topics, including frontline leadership, lean green belt, computer skills, safety, welding, and other professional consulting. There will be 1,600 hours of education for around 40 employees through the end of next June. The company is eligible for this grant roughly every other year.

Lori Goemans, the HR and IT manager for C.A. Lawton, said the company can hear ideas from supervisors and employees before she meets with representatives from NWTC to coordinate the education.

This year, C.A. Lawton decided it had a large need for leadership training after workers on the foundry floor moved from being on production to supervisory roles.

“We are giving them an opportunity to learn more about leadership and grow in that area,” Goemans said. “Much of our training is focused on leadership. We have the front-line leadership academy. We have one specifically for Tier 2 managers. We also have some training designed around effective communication and how to have conversations around hard topics effectively and make them be productive.”

There’s even some “train the trainer” training lined up, which will help the company train new and current employees that’s part of a new on-boarding program being launched. Additional training will be on computers and modern office technology for workers that are more familiar with the shop floor. C.A. Lawton is also sending 15 employees for lean green-belt certification.

The benefits to this program are clear.

“The vast majority of the training programs are held here on site. When it’s relevant we use our environment. If we’re doing safety training we can be on our floor, and everything pertains to us.”

The feedback from employees is positive. In fact, they find it to be an eye-opening experience.

“Some of it is skill-based, so we can see it in the improved skills and more productivity. Some of it is the foundry skills, so we see the foundry managers being more effective,” Goemans said. “Everybody enjoys the opportunity to learn and to grow. I know a lot of these leaders that are going into it are excited to learn about leadership, because they’ve learned on the job.

“There’s the soft skills that are hard to learn trial by fire.”

Instead, learning in a course could be the better way to go.

“I think the cool thing about the WAT grant and the leadership training is so many of these people were promoted from within because they were good at what they were doing. They were good at their job task,” said Cathlin Stuntz, director of operations. “These training classes we’ve chosen are very specific to help (the new supervisors) understand the difference between being their buddy and their co-worker and now being a leader and how to do that well. That’s awesome.”  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2018 issue of Modern Casting