If you had to guess what keeps owners of small manufacturing companies like EJ Ajax up at night, you’d probably say, “global competition.” But you’d be wrong. My third-generation precision metal-forming company is holding its own on the world stage, with more than a third of our total production exported to Europe, the Caribbean, China, North Korea and other countries. In fact, when a customer moved production of one of its products to China, it opened a new market that increased demand for our component ten-fold.
Actually, the concern that is on my mind is the need for skilled workers who can maintain the quality and productivity that make our company competitive. They are the workers who literally keep the lights on and drive the economic engine of this country.
These are also the workers who are already in short supply, and who will become even scarcer unless we find innovative approaches to equip them with crucial skills.
Thanks to a grant from the Department of Labor, many companies like mine have been able to find or develop our workers through the M-Powered program at Hennepin Technical College. To date, M-Powered has graduated more than 350 entry-level manufacturing workers, who have received both classroom and paid on-the-job training. This successful partnership of private industry, higher education, state government agencies, non-profits and national associations has worked together to find common ground and make sure that everyone’s needs get met.
My 50-person workforce now includes a dozen M-Powered students and graduates. Many of those who graduated from M-Powered have gone on to earn Class A Journeyworker certifications registered with the Department of Labor.
Through M-Powered, the Department of Labor has not only helped my company to survive and thrive; it has also changed lives by helping people get onto a career ladder and earn a family-sustaining wage. More importantly, the program is helping our veterans secure civilian jobs in high-growth industries. In my company alone, M-Powered has helped four veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We are now in the final stages of the original DOL grant, with the last group of workers in the pipeline. I am hopeful that we will somehow be able to continue M-Powered. Yet, I am happy and proud to say that the basic model has been replicated by two other local colleges, who are now training manufacturing workers.
On behalf of myself and my colleagues at EJ Ajax, thanks to the Department of Labor for your efforts.
Erick Ajax is the Vice-President of EJ Ajax & Sons, Inc.