With a significant portion of the plastics molding workforce set to retire in the next 10 to 15 years, recruiting a new generation of employees is a priority for the entire industry. With President Paul Ziegenhorn at the helm, Matrix Tooling, Inc./Matrix Plastic Products, Wood Dale, IL, is working with a local high school to shatter misconceptions about manufacturing and educate students on the possibilities of a career in plastics processing.
“Finding quality people in the precision manufacturing trades has always been a challenge,” said Ziegenhorn, “but never as difficult as it is now. Not every kid is four-year college material, but those kids still need to earn adequate wages and build successful careers. Our trade – moldmaking – is something that gives kids the opportunity to earn an advanced degree wage without a degree.”
Matrix Tooling has traditionally had an apprenticeship program, with two new apprentices beginning work this fall. In addition, the TMA, a local association, also has worked to encourage careers in trade, and Ziegenhorn has served on advisory committees designed to address the problem. However, Matrix recently took another step, helping to develop a program with a local high school, Austin Poly.
“We have helped Austin Poly develop a curriculum that walks the students through every phase of a molding project – part design, mold flow studies, inspections – based on a medical device we create that encompasses several plastic parts and assembly,” explained Ziegenhorn. As the program progresses, Ziegenhorn hopes the students will have the remote access capabilities to follow weekly web-based meetings, watch the design engineers present a condensed explanation of the mold design, follow the mold creation through the CAM area, experience the manufacturing stages and then go into the QA lab for inspection. This year, the students left the classroom on three separate occasions to visit Matrix and see the production process in action.
“It gives kids an exposure to the materials so they have an understanding of resin properties, while they also see an actual medical device created from start-to-finish,” Ziegenhorn said. “It’s an introduction into the ways science is used in the real world.”
The manufacturing science course is currently offered to senior level students at Austin Poly, and the program already is looking to expand for the 2012-2013 school year. In time, the curriculum being developed could be offered to other companies and other schools, to the benefit of the entire industry.
“I’ve talked to guidance counselors at career fairs, and there is a softening in what parents are willing to let their kids do in terms of a trade,” said Ziegenhorn. “Too many kids are coming out of college and finding themselves ill-prepared to find a job. The manufacturing trades are a viable alternative that pay a competitive wage, and people are starting to see that.”