Friday the 13th marked a day of celebration as an enthusiastic group gathered at UMA Precision Machining in Zimmerman to celebrate a local first: a grant awarded for specialized job training that involves business, a community college and high school students.

UMA, the Anoka Ramsey Community College, Zimmerman High School, the Elk River-based Decklan Group and the state of Minnesota all played key roles in securing a $49,791 grant. It funds weekly, four-hour, on-site training sessions for 16 UMA employees and four high school students over the course of a year.

UMA owner Tom McChesney said the company specializes in the design and manufacture of components used for medical procedures and surgery, and it’s a full-service machine shop that offers laser marking, dipping, polishing and other services. He said much of UMA’s work is for the medical industry, but it also produces components used in food service, firearms and other fields.

McChesney said, “In our industry we have such a hard time finding people, especially young people.”

Steve Jones of the Anoka Ramsey Community College agrees that manufacturing is an extremely fast-growing and competitive industry in which people can find rewarding careers and great pay. He, McChesney and high school teacher Jason Savage agree that the objective includes making young people aware of their choices. Not all of them want or can afford a four-year degree but aren’t aware of what else is “out there.”

Jones said the local training focuses on five key areas designed to not only help the current workforce improve its skills but also boost production, quality and other good-business indicators. He said people who work hard in a booming industry tend to get promoted and often need new skills for the position.

Anoka Ramsey Community College adjunct faculty members, who are also working professionals, facilitate the classes. Generally, they include lessons in operations management, leadership and production management, as well as training under the broad umbrella of “lean management” strategy. Students learn to create a workplace of precision and speed, to analyze and improve processes, to standardize workflow and to develop techniques that create efficiency, eliminate waste, expedite production and enhance employee value.

McChesney is impressed, sees progress after three classes and said, “I’ve not had one negative comment yet.”

Savage, the work-based learning coordinator for the ISD 728 online high school and ZHS, said the senior, junior and two sophomores participating in the program are gaining invaluable experience.

“We don’t have a huge vocational offering at ZHS,” Savage said.

He said the students get to train with real employees in a professional environment and seem engaged and positive. They like being in on the conversation, enjoy the sometimes-competitive interactive games and are beginning to see how the lessons apply to life.

Long buildup leads to first-time event

McChesney said UMA started in a 1,200-square-foot building on his residential property, moving to Orrock Township at one point and expanding there twice before building and moving into a 25,000-square-foot facility last year in the Sherburne County Safety Addition Park on Highway 45.

He said he’s been thinking of an on-site training facility for a while and had mentioned it long ago to people at a school-booster meeting. Savage said right from the beginning, the idea has generated excitement among the district and unwavering support from Savage, the ZHS principal, the ISD 728 superintendent and others.

Annie Deckert of the Decklan Group has helped a few other businesses apply for and win similar grants, and she introduced the possibility to McChesney. Not long after, they called a meeting that produced positive results. Deckert said different grants have different criteria, but the state “liked a lot” that high school students would be involved with the UMA training.

UMA applied for funds through the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership program under the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Deckert and McChesney said the winning companies provide a dollar-for-dollar match of the grant funds, and the purpose of the awards is to train and retrain employees, as well as encourage higher wages.

“It’s a program to address the skills gap that’s there,” Deckert said about the funds.

She worked with industrial-tech teachers in her last job and said sometimes the training people get in school is outdated compared to actual workplace technology. All the partners agree that the manufacturing industry gets stigmatized as dirty and noisy with low wages, when the opposite is frequently true.

McChesney said part of his motivation for establishing an in-house classroom is personal. He didn’t especially like school when he was young but appreciates the mentors who steered him to and through shop classes, which he never dreamed would lead to a career in metal fabrication. He realizes now how much he enjoys working with his hands and what a valuable opportunity it is to help others discover the same thing.

Source: UMA News