Jon DeWys, president, DeWys Manufacturing, Marne, Mich., recalled a huge effort they poured into a job fair it held about two years ago. Like many other metal fabricating shops, they were struggling to find potential employees that were mechanically inclined, could show up on time, and could pass a drug test. This job fair was supposed to help resolve that problem.
The company tried newspaper advertising, radio spots, and reaching out to local schools. “We tried everything with the exception of billboards,” DeWys said.
When the day for the job fair came, everyone prepared for an influx of candidates. A separate room was even set up to handle first interviews.
Well, about 12 people showed up all day. Only one made it to a second interview.
“That’s when we realized that we had to try something different,” DeWys said in an interview with The FABRICATOR earlier this week.
That led to the creation of DeWys University in 2012. The fabricator set aside a training area in the back of a new 24,000-square-foot addition.
In this educational setup, students get six weeks of instructional and hands-on training in five subject areas—laser cutting, machining, powder coating, press brake operation, and welding—followed by another six weeks of actual manufacturing work under close observation. In the meantime, students are being introduced to lean manufacturing techniques and are absorbed into the DeWys culture, where employees are heavily engaged in rooting out all types of waste.
It’s company-specific training to develop the specific kind of employee the company wants. It’s also helped DeWys to fill key roles as it expands.
Now, it hasn’t resolved all of the company’s hiring needs, but it has gotten the ball rolling. DeWys is no longer waiting for people to show up; it’s actively training the right candidates.
DeWys may be ahead of the curve when it comes to taking on training efforts. Since 2008 the number of apprentices in the U.S. has fallen by nearly 40 percent, according to the Center for American Progress study. Anecdotal evidence in the metal fabricating industry indicates that a lot of shops are content to just complain about the difficulty in finding the right skilled people willing to work for wages being offered without really doing anything about it.
That’s a shame because metal fabricators that don’t take on more training responsibilities run the risk of falling behind competitors and losing out on the possibility of valuable contributors who learn the business from the bottom up. As any shop will tell you, those types of employees are worth their weight in titanium scrap.