Workshop Highlights Manufacturing Jobs

04.01.2012
Workforce

School counselors urged to spread the word to students

By Lesia Winiarsky

Standing, L-R: Ben Zern, Seth Fuller, and Christie Jones of SPIROL International Corporation get ready to present to school counselors about career opportunities in manufacturing.

After graduating high school, Ben Zern was persuaded to enroll in an architectural program. He was hard-working, good with numbers, and interested in building things. His guidance counselor’s advice made sense.

But when he found himself in Boston drawing the roof of Quincy Market, Zern says, “It hit me. This wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

After stints as a landscape designer and a bookkeeper, he applied for a job at SPIROL International Corp. Headquartered in Danielson, SPIROL manufactures spring pins, dowels, bushings, drive studs, and other types of fasteners. Their products are used in assembling everything from engines to seat belts, cosmetic cases, medical/surgical instruments, and coffee makers.

Zern was hired on the spot. At 25, he’s earning 40% more than when he started at SPIROL.

“I love my job,” the CNC machinist told a roomful of school counselors at a recent workshop at Quinebaug Valley Community College. “I like to work with my hands. The reason I didn’t start in manufacturing sooner is that my guidance counselors never presented it as an option.”

An Image Problem

Christie Jones, market development manager at SPIROL, says that’s one of her industry’s biggest challenges.

Surveys by the National Association of Manufacturers show that while most Americans believe manufacturing is critical to reviving our economy, they would not recommend manufacturing jobs to their sons and daughters.

“There are lingering myths that manufacturing jobs are dirty. Dead-end. Low-paying. Moving overseas.” The reality, says Jones, is quite different.

“Manufacturing is actually onshoring,” she says, “with jobs coming back to the U.S. And these are clean, high-tech, high-paying jobs with plenty of diversity, training opportunities, and mobility.

“In spite of a slow economy, 2011 was a record year for SPIROL,” she says, adding, “We foresee another record year in 2012.”

Fifteen counselors from high schools throughout eastern Connecticut attended the half-day workshop, which included a Q&A with SPIROL employees as well as opening remarks by QVCC president Ross Tomlin, and a tour of the campus and its light manufacturing lab, led by engineering instructor Jakob Spjut.

Dr. Karen Wosczyna-Birch, executive director of the Connecticut Community Colleges’ College of Technology’s Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing (RCNGM), gave a presentation on the College of Technology’s associate’s degree and certificate programs, which prepare students for high-growth careers in next generation manufacturing. “These programs also provide a seamless pathway for community college students to continue their studies as juniors in engineering programs as well as engineering or industrial technology programs at several of the state’s leading universities,” she said.

Lifelong Learning

Design engineer Seth Fuller, 26, told the group of school counselors that in his five years at SPIROL, no two days have been alike.

“This experience has been revolutionary in terms of my thinking about manufacturing,” he said.

Jones, who has an engineering degree and has held various positions at SPIROL, agrees. “I joined the company in 1994 as an applications engineer. Since then, I’ve worked as an operations manager, inside sales engineer, field applications engineer, strategic account manager, and more. I was able to earn my MBA through the company’s tuition reimbursement program.”

She emphasized that manufacturers like SPIROL value their employees, invest in them, and promote from within. (The CBIA Education Foundation’s 2011 Survey of Connecticut’s Manufacturing Workforce, commissioned by the RCNGM, bears this out. Nearly two-thirds of manufacturers: 65%: provide tuition reimbursement for their employees.)

“From HR to IT managers, accountants to CAD drafters, there is such a diversity of jobs here for anyone who shows an interest and initiative. People move from the office to the shop floor and vice versa, depending on their interests. It’s important for young people to know that about manufacturing: It offers a high degree of satisfaction and a lot of possibilities.”

The Feb. 17 workshop was sponsored by the RCNGM and administered by CBIA’s Education Foundation. Similar workshops are scheduled for May 4 at Three Rivers Community College and May 14 at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. School counselors interested in attending should contact Mary deManbey at 860.244.1975 or mary.demanbey@cbia.com.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.

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