Opening Doors: Collaboration Unlocks Career Pathway for Forum Plastics’ Mark Laden

01.19.2024
Workforce
“I will keep working and trying to keep learning more and the more I know, the better I’m gonna get here,” says Forum Plastics Mark Laden.

After spending much of his life working in landscaping, Mark Laden was looking for a career. 

“I wanted to do something different,” he said. 

That something different turned out to be an opportunity to work at Forum Plastics, LLC, a manufacturer that makes plastic parts for medical devices. 

Laden, who is deaf, connected with the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services after hearing about it from a friend. 

BRS is a state agency that provides services for people with disabilities to prepare for, enter, and maintain employment.

BRS helped connect Laden with MASC, the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corporation. 

Unique Training

MASC is a nonprofit post-secondary training school that provides programs in different disciplines in metalworking and manufacturing in the Greater Waterbury area. 

“We do manufacturing in a unique way,” said MASC executive director Cyndi Zoldy. “We are focused on the accelerated nature of getting students from classroom to career.”

Zoldy said BRS frequently introduces them to students who show an aptitude or desire to learn. 

“Mark was such a great personality, he made it easy.”

MASC’s Matthew McKenney

She said Laden came in on a tour with BRS and entered their introduction to plastics program. 

“I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said MASC lead plastics instructor Matthew McKenney.

“But Mark was such a great personality, he made it easy. He and I hit it off right off the rip.”

MASC brought in translators to help Laden communicate with instructors and classmates. 

“There was a lot of time we didn’t really even need the translators because we got to the point where he was reading my lips,” said McKenney. 

Overcoming Obstacles

Zoldy said Laden was “the perfect student.”

“As many obstacles as he faced—being in a classroom with hearing students, with an instructor that did not sign—he faced them head on,” she said. 

It was through the training program at MASC that Laden was first introduced to Forum Plastics. 

“He caught our eye on that very first meeting.”

Forum Plastic’s Lisa Leonard

“Our first interaction with Mark was when he came through on a tour with the group from MASC,” said Forum’s human resources manager Lisa Leonard. 

“He really was interested, he asked a lot of great questions. So he caught our eye on that very first meeting.”

“He’s very committed, very serious student and very attentive to learning,” said McKenney. “I think it’s showing itself well in terms of how he’s done since he left.”

Part of the Team

After Laden completed the program, he applied for a job at Forum. 

“They kept telling me he’s so mechanical,” Leonard said. “He just is so good with his hands. He’s so conscientious. He wants to learn.”

She said it was a rewarding moment to see how excited Laden was when he realized he got the job doing cleaning services for molding.

Laden said he’s enjoying being part of the team at Forum.

“We have a good team here.”

Forum Plastic’s Mark Laden

“We have a good team here,” he said. “They all have good experience; more than I do.

“My favorite part of the job is to take things apart and clean them and put them back together.” 

“It’s not easy to clean and service a mold because there’s so many intricate parts,” added Leonard.

“I will keep working and trying to keep learning more and the more I know, the better I’m gonna get here,” said Laden.

Learning Curve

Leonard said it has been a learning curve as they adjusted to have a deaf employee.

She said it’s important to look at Laden when you talk to him, and to speak more slowly, so he can read your lips.

“I would tell them to speak slowly and look at me when you’re talking to me,” Laden said.

“He is teaching us to be inclusive of someone who is deaf.”

Leonard

Leonard said they also had to do things like instituting a buddy system for when there is a fire alarm or drill. 

“He is teaching us to be inclusive of someone who is deaf,” she said. 

Laden also works with Independent Learning Solutions, a nonprofit that helps disabled people achieve independence & meaningful living.

ILS has helped make the transition easier for both Laden and Forum.

“It introduced us to the programs and services that are out there to actually help the company as well,” Leonard said.

‘Two Way Street’

Laden is the first student from MASC’s plastics program to get a job at Forum, but their relationship goes back much further than that.

Forum partnered with MASC to get the program started, helping with the curriculum and getting them the machines they needed to train students.

“My hope is that people understand that there’s a place for them in manufacturing.”

MASC’s Cyndi Zoldy

“It’s a two way street, right?” said Leonard. “So we’re helping them and they’re helping us.”

Zoldy said success stories like Laden’s at Forum highlights the importance of organizations like MASC for workforce development in Connecticut.

“My hope is that people understand that there’s a place for them in manufacturing in the state of Connecticut and that they can do it,” she said.

Career Opportunities

She said it’s important to highlight and educate people about workforce initiatives and career pathways and programs that provide opportunities for people across the state, no matter their background.

“College isn’t for everybody,” she said. “And it’s really a very fantastic way to come, learn a little something.”

“You just have to really have the desire to learn and to make an investment in yourself.”

Zoldy

“You don’t need to have a certain set of skills to come here. You just have to really have the desire to learn and to make an investment in yourself.”

As for Laden, he said that he can be an example for others in a similar situation.

“I would say that if a disabled person can do this kind of job, it means anyone else can do it too,” he said.

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1 thought on “Opening Doors: Collaboration Unlocks Career Pathway for Forum Plastics’ Mark Laden”

  1. Amy Fellows says:

    Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board was lucky to meet Mark Laden in Torrington to get him started on this career path. Our communications specialist spent some time with him last year and documented his experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USWSPxQTw28&t=91s

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