NORTH CANTON, Ohio-One of the big challenges facing the rubber industry is the need to find young, qualified employees.
Quadra Tooling and Automation may have found a solution.
The subsidiary of Q Holding Co. has partnered with the R.G. Drage Career Center’s Precision Machining program to give qualified juniors and seniors a chance to shadow, and possibly work, at the firm.
Quadra started the program in 2015, bringing in four juniors on a two-day job shadowing experience. The firm selected Tyler Zerbe and Dylan Martín to work with the firm over the summer, and the pair now are working about 20 hours per week as part of their senior year courses.
Quadra General Manager Joe Flach is pleased with the results.
“We’ve hired people from the outside, and even those with experience sometimes have habits from places they’ve worked previously that don’t lend themselves to what we do here,” he said. “Our tight tolerance requires special attention. With the new young people, we teach them the special attention they need. They don’t have any bad prior habits.
“It seems that you can train a young person a little bit easier than trying to change somebody’s habits when they’ve been doing it a certain way for a long time. These guys have taken to it. They’ve shown a lot of promise, and I have high hopes we’re going to keep them and keep moving forward with the program.”
Quadra does all the mold making and tooling for Q Holding’s other subsidiaries – QSR and Qure Medical. The firm operates with about 42 employees at two locations–about 30 in North Canton and 12 in Sturtevant, Wis.
The firm recently added a five-axis machine to its Wisconsin facility. Flach said the North Canton facility has added six new CNC milling machines and a wire EDM machine during the last two years.
When Flach took over at Quadra more than two years ago, he saw a need to develop younger employees. He estimated the average age of the North Canton facility in the low 40s, with only a handful under 40.
The answer presented itself when a co-worker recommended R.G. Drage, and eventually Flach was connected with Tim Burns, instructor of the Precision Machining program. They partnered to outline the program and establish requirements each student must meet not only to be eligible, but also when on the job. Burns spent the summer of 2014 working for Quadra to get a feel for the job.
And Flach made one thing clear.
“I told Tim, just send me your best,” he said. “I only want to see your best.”
That wasn’t much of a problem for Burns, because R.G. Drage sets a high bar for students to become eligible for job shadowing. The center pools from six high schools in the Canton area-Northwest, Tuslaw, Frurless, Minerva, Louisville and Malvern. It starts reaching out to kids in the eighth grade, and by the 10th grade students have the opportunity to tour two programs, get a feel for the school and decide whether or not to finish their high school education at the career center.
Each student has a chance to select one of the many different educational tracks. Others include bakery, culinary, power equipment, heavy truck diesel, dental assisting and cosmetology. They’ll integrate program-specific lab work and also attend classes to satisfy the normal graduation requirements from their high school. After senior year, graduates receive a certificate of completion from R.G. Drage and a high school diploma.
The requirements to be eligible for job placement senior year are tough. Juniors have to have all A’s or B’s and no more than one day absent for the year. Burns said more than 50 percent of his class meets those requirements every year.
“We do a good job from day one in making sure there is an awareness,” he said. “I do a presentation to our new students. Our job placement coordinator comes down and does a presentation. We show them the opportunities and how they can work to get there. That really helps with grades and attendance in the program. They know this skill they’re learning is marketable.
“No teacher ever has a problem signing off on a student who has all A’s and B’s.”
This year, eight students were available for shadowing, but Burns had to narrow it down to four. Quadra hosted four juniors in March and is in the process of deciding which ones it will offer summer employment. Flach lets employees decide because they’re the ones who worked one-on-one with each student.
“Maybe we’re more critical this year, but last year it seemed easier to pick two,” Flach said. “Last year it was a slam dunk; everybody kind of said the same thing. This time it’s just not a slam dunk. Each guy has his own work area, so he’s going to focus on things that fit his area. It’s more split up this year than last year.”
Once a junior is selected for summer employment, Quadra uses the time to evaluate the student. Students that make a strong impression are offered a chance to work there during their senior year in place of their R.G. Drage lab grade.
Zerbe and Martín must have made an impression because both seniors are working four hours each weekday at Quadra. Zerbe said his junior year was basically a learning curve, getting familiar with the machines. He talked with about five other shops, but Quadra’s atmosphere and working environment stood out.
“You never want to have a job where you’re doing a thousand pieces, constantly the same thing,” he said. “You want things to be changed up. You want a career, something where you look forward to going to work and doing. Every week there’s something different on the table that we have to make or do. It makes it a lot more enjoyable to come in when you have more experiences.”
Martin said he visited other shops, and Quadra’s cleanliness stood out. That and the challenge of working at a mold shop.
“In this shop there’s a lot of stuff going on. I’ve been told that in a mold shop, with the tolerances so tight and working on a lot of different stuff, if you can make it here you can pretty much make it anywhere,” he said.
Flach stressed the importance of having a mentor, saying that had it not been for the generation before, he wouldn’t be in the position he is in today. Zerbe and Martin potentially could stay with Quadra in a four-year apprenticeship program. He said he’s been in contact with the state of Ohio registrar to make it a certified program and doesn’t anticipate a problem.
“‘It’s given me more faith in our young people because they are a great pair,” Flach said. “You can hear all the negatives about young people in the United States, but these two guys have given me faith about what our young people can still do. There are still good people out there who want to learn something, who want to build something with their hands.
“You have to give back to the next generation. You need them for the future of the industry.”