Industry Watch

Manufacturing opportunities

Ultra Machining Company makes education and training a part of its business

By Alex Harvison
Thursday, February 26, 2015

For manufacturers looking to grow, finding adequately trained workers can be difficult. Ultra Machining Company addresses the problem head on. 

Based in Monticello, UMC manufactures precision-machined parts and assemblies for the medical, aerospace, commercial, industrial, and energy industries. With 190 employees, it looks to the future by keeping its workforce trained in the latest technologies — and by encouraging student interest in manufacturing. 

“We work with a lot of local technical schools and encourage them and their students to focus in on certain areas,” says president Eric Gibson. “We have an apprenticeship program where we take on six apprentices from May to late August and rotate them through different operations and machines and give them as much information and training as possible, so that when they go back to their schools they can ask the right questions.” 

UMC also develops new opportunities for students through its engineering program. Launched in 2013, it gives student engineers projects that engage them in manufacturing operations and planning.

John Loscheider, a CMM (coordinate measuring machine) programmer at the company, has been in the manufacturing industry for 14 years. Now his son, a high school student in St. Michael who’s taken classes for tool, tech, and computer-assisted design, participates in a two-year UMC apprenticeship where he works in a variety of departments to learn how each one operates. The end goal is getting into computer numerical control machining. 

Meanwhile, UMC has offered training programs to employees for some 30 years. Says Gibson: “Our focus has always been, how do we help our current employees and advance them up the corporate ladder, and how do we get our new employees up to speed?”

Last September, the company gave its HR manager, Jaci Dukowitz, a newly created job title: Director of Human Resources & Development. The idea is that she rewrite the hiring process and develop a curriculum that targets what employees need so that they can develop a career path. “The company focuses on strategically evaluating what training is needed and how they can leverage employee talents and then point them in the right direction,” Dukowitz says. “Over the years, we’ve done continual employee surveys, and the feedback has been training, training, training!” 

Through the apprenticeship program, UMC offers education reimbursements that pay $1,000 a year toward education costs until they’re paid off, as long as the employee continues to work for the company. It also has a tuition reimbursement program that offers career-related financial support of up to $1,000 for educational costs. “This really encourages people to go out and get as much training and different skill sets as they can,” says Gibson.

The company also offers education programs to spouses. If the spouse of an employee wants to go to school to learn a skill set in manufacturing, UMC will give them $500 a year toward the cost of classes.

“Some companies either can’t afford to give these kinds of courses or just flat-out don’t want to give them,” Loscheider says. “It’s nice working for a company whose founders believed in better training and further education.”

Last year, UMC received a Manufacturing Leadership Award in the category of Workplace Leadership for its ERP (enterprise resource planning) reimplementation project. In the end, Gibson says, it all comes down to how well trained and up to speed workers are. Very few companies, he notes, focus on their yearly planning and day-to-day tactical process. 

As for educating students, UMC engages them as early as the sixth grade. It also reaches out to parents so they’ll know their children can have a bright future in manufacturing. 

UMC has worked with Alexandria Technical & Community College, for example, which runs a technology summer camp. “Every year they bring kids and parents to tour our facility and have a roundtable discussion with us, which helps them to understand that it’s a viable opportunity,” says Dukowitz. “[We] address any concerns that parents might have. In the end, a lot of people realize that this is a great place to be.”

Clayton Dahlheimer, a metrology technician, has been with UMC for four years. He trains and mentors new employees and apprentices on CMMs. “I’ve been a mentor for nearly three years now, and I mentor a lot of high school apprentices, opening their eyes to the many fields and opportunities that this industry has to offer,” he says. “For fellow employees, I’ve mentored on some of the issue resolutions that come along with the manufacturing world.”

“For some kids, college really isn’t an option,” Gibson says. “Whether it’s grades or financial situations, we want them to know that they can still have a really good job that pays well and that will give them a large array of skills. It’s important to tell people about this because most people still think of manufacturing as being like your 1940s dark, dingy, and oily factory with blue-collar workers looking miserable, like it’s been displayed in older pictures. And it’s anything but that. We have the latest technology and assist in things like aerospace and are just really bright and promising. A lot of people who come and tour our facility leave saying, ‘Wow! I had no idea!’”