Alex Walsh has been a design intern working in Wilson’s design engineering department for about 2 ½ years. Walsh is a student at Century College.
Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune
At high-tech Wilson Tool, factory work is getting new life
- Article by: DEE DePASS
- Star Tribune
- October 5, 2012 - 10:36 PM
At Wilson Tool, workers make machine tools and dies for the metal stamping and punch press machines used by such big names as Toro, Polaris, Pentair and John Deere.
The family-run company in Hugo is also building something else -- a bigger workforce.
Executives at Wilson Tool plan to hire 50 new machinists, engineers and interns this year, and they are doing more than hanging a "Help Wanted" sign to do it.
The company is offering internships and scholarships to entice students and young workers to consider manufacturing as a career. It even provides employees an onsite health clinic where dozens of prescriptions are free.
"There are lots of jobs available," said Jeff Paulson, Wilson Tool's marketing manager.
Wilson Tool's efforts illustrate the apparent momentum in hiring nationwide. The household survey from the nation's job report on Friday showed 873,000 more Americans working in September than August. The unemployment rate also fell to 7.8 percent, lowest in almost four years.
To spotlight its need for more workers, Wilson Tool held its first "Manufacturing Day" celebration Friday, encouraging officials on Capitol Hill, in cities and colleges to spread the word that U.S. manufacturing offers good-paying, high-tech jobs.
"Today's manufacturing certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of manufacturing from 50 years ago," Paulson told 160 employees, politicians, students and townspeople gathered for the event at the company's headquarters. "It's not the dirt floor, or the guy in the back hammering on an anvil. It's pretty high-tech stuff."
U.S. manufacturing has been a bright spot during much of the sluggish economic recovery. While the sector shed 16,000 jobs nationwide in September and 22,000 in August, manufacturing companies have been hiring more workers over most of the previous 12 months.
Today, Wilson Tool is determined to bolster its 475-person workforce, as domestic and export orders have risen by 10 to 15 percent a year for its seven worldwide plants.
The company hired Kevin Valley last month to work in its Hugo plant. Valley, who spent Friday grinding steel slivers off hundreds of press punches, had been unemployed since June, when he lost his job at a Minneapolis printing company after 24 years.
"It feels good to be working again," said Valley, who is "starting over," making nearly half of his prior $25-an-hour salary. Still, he's hoping to get to $15 an hour after his training period is over.
Greg Albert, who is supervising Valley's training, is impressed by the new employee's skills. "He has a mechanical background, and that helps," Albert said.
While Valley shows promise, Paulson said it remains difficult to find enough job candidates who possess the right skills or are interested in manufacturing careers. Some students and parents shun two-year technical colleges, or think manufacturing means working amid grease, dirt and fumes, he said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who attended the Wilson Tool event, said the company isn't isolated in its struggles. She said that during a recent statewide tour she learned that AGCO, a maker of agricultural equipment, needed welders, while Polaris, which produces recreational vehicles, struggled to find enough engineers.
The solution, she said, is to establish more training partnerships between factories and technical colleges, as well as more programs that let high school students take manufacturing classes in technical colleges.
"It's really important that we start instilling in kids this idea that manufacturing is hot," Klobuchar said. "You can get jobs that are good-paying jobs."
Determined to maintain its pursuit of workers, Wilson Tool will host a recruiting open house next Thursday, as it spreads the word that the company has jobs, internships and scholarships.
Nick Duppong, 25, has been an intern at the plant for nearly two years. On Friday, the St. Paul College student was unleashing newly coated punch presses from a holder. He had just covered them with a titanium coating that strengthened the metal tenfold.
On the other side of the plant, intern Alex Walsh sat at her computer terminal, designing a punch press unit. The company is paying her tuition at Century College. She has four more years before she'll get her engineering degree.
Such benefits got the attention of Travis Eischen, 19, a Century College engineering student who stopped by Wilson Tool on Friday. Eischen leaned closer to observe an engineer operate a massive machine that zipped and punched out a steel stencil of a Corvette sports car. His interest was piqued.
"I'm looking to get an internship. It would mean a lot, because I could get experience," Eischen said.
But not everyone thinks like Eischen. Wilson Tool is seeking a pipeline of 20 interns but has only 10 so far. "We are having a hard time," said Chris Lawless, Wilson operations vice president.
By aggressively preaching its growth message to the community, the 46-year-old business hopes that more workers will step forward. "We are bringing attention to manufacturing and to the whole jobs [issue] by bringing work and jobs back to the state," said co-owner Dianne Carlson.
Dee DePass 612-673-7725
© 2014 Star Tribune