Pictured L to R back row: Jerry Musielewicz - Pine Technical College, Dennis Ryan, Choua Lee, Matt Johnson, Dan Dunn, Joe Costanzo, Robbie Bathke, David Vang, Brian Short, Travis Schultz. Front row: Heidi Braun - Pine Technical College, Leslie Philmon - MN Dept of Labor and Industry, Mike Gunderson - Mill Manager, Todd Dahlstrom - MN AFLCIO, Jerome Balsimo - WRTP, John O’Neil - USW local 624 President. Not pictured: Ian Larson, Mark Brown, Joe Coursolle.
In February 2017 the plant was approached by the USW with a unique opportunity to participate in a new apprenticeship program designed specifically to enhance the skills of our front-line production workers. The local program is a product of a joint effort between the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, with sponsorship through the USW, and support of local companies such as WestRock. This 18-month program operates on a hybrid approach including 2736 hours of on-the-job training at the plant complemented by 264 hours of college classroom instruction. The IMTA program is a registered apprenticeship program through the State of MN; each indentured apprentice, at completion of the program, earns a Journey Worker credential through the State of MN. Additionally, each individual is awarded a Manufacturing Foundations certificate and a Production Technologies certificate from Pine Technical College.
Participants for the program were chosen through a voluntary selection process and ranged from relatively new employees through veteran operators, each of who works in one of the plant’s various production areas. These individuals are responsible for every aspect of manufacturing from handling the incoming raw materials, operating each of the various manufacturing processes and respective equipment, as well as handling and shipping of the finished product. The skills acquired through this program afford benefits to the plant in terms of enhancing the ability of operators to technically understand principles of operation, thus allowing them to effectively operate, optimize, and troubleshoot equipment for efficient operations.
On-the-job training competencies include safety of self and others, operation of production equipment, interpretation of technical information, quality systems, measurement and inspection of work, knowledge of routine equipment maintenance, inventory and material processes, basic elements of the business, continuous improvement, and set-up of production equipment. We also include a customer element at the plant and program participants tour local customer facilities.
College classroom instruction includes safety awareness, maintenance principles, manufacturing processes, quality practices, career success skills, introduction to computers, blueprint reading, and technical math.
Together, these program elements provide a highly impactful experience. More-importantly, from an employee engagement standpoint, this program brings excitement and satisfaction to the participating employees and is a platform to build additional engagement across the plant.
The initial pilot program for the plant was funded through a national program sponsored by the US Dept of Labor. This initial funding has since expired; as such the plant has partnered with Pine Technical College and submitted a grant for funding through the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development. We were excited to learn that this grant was approved in June!
Recruiting efforts for the next cohort of 16 employees will begin in July with a planned October program start date!