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“We don’t have time to train someone!” A West Michigan business explains the value of GRCC’s Job Training program

We’ve all heard the expression, “Time is money.” However, for businesses like Thompson Innovative Glass, that’s more than just an expression.

Thompson is a premier glass fabrication manufacturer headquartered in Fenton, Michigan. Due to high demand for their innovative products, including ballistic glass, Thompson was seeking to expand. They had the choice to grow in eastern Michigan or open a new facility here on the west side. Fortunately for all of us, they chose Jenison for their growing operation. Thompson purchased a building and then had to start finding the right people.

“Our biggest challenge is finding quality talent,” said Jeremy Deutschmann, Chief Financial Officer. “Once people join our team, they generally stay, but finding them is hard.” 

Thompson needed more than entry-level people who would move parts around. 

“We’re focused on automating our processes,” said Mike Broekhuis, Chief Technology Officer. “We’re hiring people who can take care of machines rather than handling physical parts. That means we need people with mechatronics skills.” 

For those of us who are not technology officers, “mechatronics” refers to people who can program robots, handle drives, manage input/output sensors and much more. They are machine caretakers who have the skills to develop systems and diagnose problems. These are tough positions to fill because there’s global demand for these skills. 

“We’re seeking to minimize physical labor, but that’s not all we need,” said Deutschmann. “We also need people who buy into the culture of metrics and accountability. Glass is often a last-minute thing. We need to produce our product on a reliable and predictable schedule, which requires motivated and team-oriented employees who are willing to get their hands dirty.” 

When Thompson finalized their plans to expand, Broekhuis started researching places where he could recruit. He found GRCC and spoke with the instructors of the CNC and mechatronics programs. 

“I walked away from those meetings impressed by their ability to get candidates ready for the workforce,” Broekhuis said. Ultimately, that relationship led to the hiring of GRCC Job Training graduate Wyatt Suchecki

“I got a call from our president the week that Wyatt started his training in Fenton,” Broekhuis continued. “He told me one of our tenured CNC operators was raving about Wyatt. In his words, ‘It’s nice to have someone come in here who knows what he’s doing!’ That confirmed my instinct, which was that GRCC is educating students for immediate workforce success.” 

What does it mean to Thompson that they’ve made the right hire? 

“When our machines arrive in Jenison, we’re going to be up and running immediately,” said Deutschmann. “We don’t have time to train someone. We have too many orders to fulfill for us to spend two months on training. We need to start fabricating glass right away.”

Broekhuis echoed this sentiment. 

“Having experienced CNC operators means we don’t have to micromanage them,” Broekhuis said. “With formal training in CNC machine operation, a new hire can work more independently, reducing the risk of inadvertently causing damage to the equipment or its components. A well-trained operator can anticipate problems and re-code machines without supervision. We’ve been impressed that Wyatt can do those things, but has also brought insights from what he learned in the GRCC program. I am impressed with the instructors and the culture they create. There have been no surprises in our hire of Wyatt. We got what we thought we were getting. You can’t put a price on that.” 

GRCC President Dr. Charles Lepper notes that partnering with the community is a big part of the community college role. 

In a recent episode of The TechEd Podcast, he said, “Part of what folks underestimate is the impact that GRCC has in the community. We just completed an economic impact survey through Lightcast. It’s estimated that in 2020-21, our economic impact was $1 billion in Kent and Ottawa County.“ 

Dr. Lepper noted that this kind of impact does not happen in a vacuum. 

“In order for us to stay current, we have to have a relationship and dialogue with businesses and partners to say, ‘What do you need and how do we prepare students for that?’ We have about 17 advisory committees that provide feedback on our curriculum and help build learning experiences for our students. We’re very committed to listening and understanding before we offer solutions.”

His message to industrial employers is simple: get involved! 

“GRCC is the gateway to the Michigan New Jobs Training Program. We are the largest user of that program, which helps businesses hire new employees. In the last 10 years, GRCC has trained over 22,000 employees using that grant!”

Interim job developer Mina Stallworth visited with Thompson Innovative Glass and helped them connect to Wyatt. She is excited about the ways in which GRCC can support local talent recruitment efforts. 

“My job is to build partnerships with employers,” Stallworth said. “Mike is one of the few people who have come to GRCC and toured. He asked questions and saw the students at work. We would love to have any interested employer take us up on that kind of opportunity!” 

“People are our competitive edge,” Deutschmann concluded. “If we can manufacture better, on a faster schedule and at a lower cost, that makes us more competitive and allows us to keep growing. We need people who are motivated to help us achieve that goal. I’m glad to know we can count on GRCC and their talent pool when we need to hire people with competent, cutting-edge manufacturing technology skills.”

If you would like to explore the ways in which GRCC can help your business develop talent, please contact Scott Mattson, Program Manager, Job Training & Construction Trades. 

This story was reported by Julie Hordyk.