As many Wisconsin manufacturers continue to struggle to find qualified employees, J&R Machine Inc. in Shawano has been filling its own employment pipeline by joining forces with area high schools.
The roots in finding a solution to the contract machine shop’s employment needs date back to early last decade, J&R Machine president Tim Tumanic said. At that time, Tumanic’s son, Parker, who now runs the company’s day-to-day operations, began working in the J&R Machine factory while still attending high school.
“Then he got a friend, his friend had a friend, and all of a sudden we had four or five employees right out of the chute,” Tim Tumanic said. “There’s a common thread with those guys. Soft skills: good character, good work ethic, those kinds of things. So, we decided to see how we could support these guys.”
Support from J&R Machine came in the investment of a computer numerical control (CNC) lab at Shawano Community High School and, more recently, a similar investment at nearby Bonduel High School. Investments in other nearby schools will be considered, Tumanic said.
“We typically start a student out in their junior year working a couple of hours after school, cleaning and that sort of thing,” Tumanic said. “When they get into their senior year, we have them do some other tasks on machines. They get to the end of their school year and if it’s agreed upon with our management and the employee, we will make an offer to that employee to begin full-time status once they graduate.”
J&R Machine typically hires two or three new high school graduates each year.
“We don’t hire a lot from the outside,” Tumanic said. “We like to train them our way.”
Founded in 1992, the company has about 40 employees overall and is undergoing a nearly $2 million expansion project that will add about 10,000 square feet to the existing 20,000-square-foot structure.
Establishing relationships with high schools has gone a long way toward dispelling outdated views of manufacturing as a mundane, low-paying profession carried out in hot, dirty factories.
“All anyone has to do is come into our shop. We have a 100 percent air-conditioned plant and it’s clean,” Tumanic said. “The employees have uniforms, a workout center, and a beautiful cafeteria where they can watch TV during their lunch breaks. We’ve created an environment that we’re proud of. It’s not the old cliché.”
Forging a partnership with the schools also has allowed J&R Machine to appeal directly to the students’ parents about careers in manufacturing.
“We get the parents to direct their kids to manufacturing and let them know that there are good-paying jobs out there, and they don’t have to deal with taking out student loans,” Tumanic said.
J&R Machine also hosts open houses at the schools’ CNC labs as part of its recruitment efforts.
“Whether they come to work at J&R is irrelevant,” Tumanic said. “It’s more about getting students exposed to and involved to manufacturing.”
Recruiting employees from local high schools has turned out to be a productive strategy for J&R Machine.
“We never place an ad in the newspaper for an employee,” Tumanic said. “We recruit them, so almost everybody is from the local community and has come from the local school system.”
J&R Machine’s young workforce, with an average age of 28, also has benefitted from having an employer that is committed to their development and in fairly compensating them for their work.
“About 80 percent of the employees own their own homes and they drive nice vehicles,” Tumanic said.
Employee turnover is minimal at J&R Machine, in large part because of the culture that has been created, according to Tumanic.
“We lose maybe three or four people a year,” he said. “Typically, people don’t leave here because they are unhappy. They leave because they’re young and they start working and decide, maybe, that working inside isn’t for them. That’s where we have lost people. We don’t lose people to other shops.”
The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership has a long-standing relationship with J&R Machine and has provided a variety of services, including lean manufacturing, value stream mapping, 5S methodology, profit risk assessment and Overall Equipment Effectiveness. For more information on programs offered by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to www.wmep.org.