Growing a Dwindling Workforce

WIRE-Net Employment and Training Initiatives Bring Workers Back to Manufacturing Jobs

Tom Schumann

Twenty-five years ago, no one would have predicted that manufacturers would be struggling to fill skilled positions within their factories. In fact, in the midst of the most recent economic downturn, who would have thought that finding qualified workers is still a major concern for business owners?

Tom Schumann, General Manager of Kitzel & Sons, Inc. and WIRE-Net Board President from 2009-2012, realized a decade ago that something needed to be done to address an impending labor shortage in Northeast Ohio. Which is what initially got him interested in WIRE-Net.

"Ten or 15 years ago when I first got involved, I looked around our shop and realized we had an aging workforce, as the average worker was over 50 years old. We had been in business a long time and we had a lot of long-term employees," he said. "We didn't have a lot of young people, and the mix was not very good, so I was really getting concerned about that.

"So it was near and dear to me when we started looking at youth opportunities in manufacturing. And that got me involved with Max Hayes High School and the other things I've done with WIRE-Net."

Schumann said his interest in training youth for skilled jobs is what brought him to WIRE-Net.

"I got a phone call from (past presidents) Don Dzurec and Peter Accorti inviting me to lunch," Schumann recalled. "They knew that I had a real interest in finding young people to work in manufacturing. I had actually been involved in the NASA pre-apprentice program for a while, so they took me to lunch and said that WIRE-Net had an affiliation with an organization called NEOMAC, which was the Northeastern Ohio Metalworking Awareness Council, and they were looking for somebody to represent WIRE-Net on that board. So they tricked me by taking me to lunch and got me hooked in."

"An interesting thing about our business is that from the time I became WIRE-Net chairman to the time I left, we actually doubled our company's sales volume. I'm not sure I know why, whether I was forced to focus better on business because I was spending so much time at WIRE-Net, or what..."

Tom Schumann, WIRE-Net Board Chairman, 2009-2012

Since then, Schumann has engaged in a number of WIRE-Net initiatives focused on placing skilled workers in, and training youth as future workers for well-paying jobs along the North Coast.

"Five years ago, WIRE-Net got involved with a program called WorkSource which is a program where WIRE-Net charges companies a fee – like an employment agency fee – but members get a very large discount off of what you would traditionally see from an employment agency," he said. "WorkSource finds highly skilled people for the manufacturing members of WIRE-Net. We are actually finding people on the plant manager level. I've hired a manufacturing engineer through the program, a wire EDM operator and machinists. The program seeks out highly skilled people, not entry-level type people. It's a program that a lot of manufacturers (if they were aware of it) could really take advantage of. And it's done at a discount for members (about a 50% discount) off traditional employment agency type fees."

Today, Schumann chairs the Friends of Max Hayes and is heavily involved with the structuring of the new Max Hayes Career Technical High School which will be opening in less than two years.

WIRE-Net is heavily invested in securing tomorrow's workforce through its various partnerships with Northeast Ohio employment and training organizations. Our close affiliation with Max Hayes High School is designed to forge relationships with businesses and post-secondary organizations in developing out-of-school learning opportunities while introducing teachers to current occupational trends and practices.

For more information about WIRE-Net's Youth Programs, contact José Estremera, Director of Youth Programs, at 216.920.1967.

"The new Max Hayes High School will open in 2015 and we're really looking to make it a world-class career tech school," Schumann said. "We're going to have very modern equipment and a very nice facility. And we're getting a lot of industry support from some key industry groups to drive the curriculum that the school will offer, and hopefully producing students who are capable of working in this high-tech, automated manufacturing world that we live in."

"I think [John Colm] is seen here in Northeastern Ohio by both the manufacturing community and by the government and the foundation people as really the key to why WIRE-Net has been successful."

Tom Schumann, WIRE-Net Board Chairman, 2009-2012

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