Everyone profits from a skilled workforce

Gerd Poppinga (left) and Sven Klatt at the Vineburg manufacturing facility.

Gerd Poppinga (left) and Sven Klatt at the Vineburg manufacturing facility.

The problem most — if not all — manufacturers face today is hiring skilled personnel that can benefit their organizations, help them grow and be competitive.

Here’s a good example. During the years of 1998 to 2002, Vineburg Machining had the good fortune of having three German interns that finished their apprenticeships working for VMI; all but one went back to Germany after one year’s time. The experience with having these interns employed at our company had a very positive impact on the employees that were working with them. The importance for the interns was to gain vocational English knowledge, which is not taught in schools in Germany. The benefit for having this vocational English knowledge is very much sought after in many German companies due to the fact that a large part of companies export their machinery all over the world. The technical language of industry worldwide is English. One of VMI’s interns decided to go back to Germany to become an engineer and enrolled at a university close to his home city. The university credited him for the year he spent with VMI because of having spent time abroad working in manufacturing, which was a major cost saving for the student.

Now to the benefits we received as a company by having had interns with us. Yes, their English knowledge was insufficient in the beginning but they had 3-1/2 years of an apprenticeship behind them and therefore could understand the technical aspects, which are universal. VMI was able to put them on any machine in the shop and within a very short time they mastered the programming on their own. They were able to teach unskilled workers a set of knowledge that boosted VMI’s production output. To our company assessment, it was concluded that each skilled individual impacted at least six other employees positively.

Unfortunately, VMI suffered the fate of so many others during the early years of 2000 and beyond. Being in a contract machining business, otherwise known as a “job shop,” many of VMI’s customers decided to have their machining done outside the U.S. and our firm shrunk the company down to 36 employees by 2003. A big decision had to be made for the future. VMI decided to stay and tough it out with a new focus and direction. First, we had to move from California to a more favorable and lesser cost state. Nevada seemed to be the best candidate. Eighteen employees and family moved that were key to VMI’s operation. With 14 semi-trucks and trailers of equipment moving, the firm settled in Mound House near Carson City and made it our new home. Refocusing VMI’s business model was also part of having made the physical move. Since one-third of the business was gone, we had to find a new approach and figure which new customers and type of companies would not likely move their products outside the country.

With a lot of effort and investment into state-of-the-art machinery, we are now one of a very few companies in northern Nevada to possess six Five-Axis CNC milling machines. VMI produces complex parts for machine gun manufacturers, medical devices such as artificial arms and leg components, aerospace, automotive and much more. In the last few years, VMI as a company involved itself with other local manufacturers and found that they all had the same problems of not having enough skilled workers, which limited their expansion plans. Another issue is the hiring of machinists away from other companies using wages as a competitive tool is also a game where no one wins and is being done today.

A local manufacturing group started to engage with the local schools and community colleges to bring about programs to fast track interested individuals into the production machining industry. It was known that this was going to take years, which gave VMI the idea of getting back into initiating this intern program again which was done a long time ago. About two years ago, General Manager Sven Klatt started teaching advanced machine programming at WNC and VMI decided to make an effort to make contacts in Germany to repeat the intern program we once had. It so happened that Sven by coincidence contacted a top ranking individual in the German unemployment agency in the State of Saxony. Many discussions followed per Skype, and VMI eventually connected with the director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for the state of Nevada who took the lead to bring about the program that is now called the Skilled Worker Exchange Program. Governor Sandoval, some of his staff, representatives from UNR, area community colleges and our company accompanied him on a trade mission to Germany to sign a “letter of intent” for this program. VMI is now working with other companies to send and receive individuals that will stay and work for up to a year on a special visa permit. The overall vision is to expand this further and involve other trades as well down the road.

Gerd G. Poppinga is the president of Vineburg Machining.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment