Battling the trend of an aging, retiring workforce in its industry, Commercial Tool and Die Inc. of Comstock Park, Mich. is doing its part to train the next generation.
“People working in tool and die are getting older and retiring,” says James Bouwman, co-owner. The lack of expert mold makers and machinists in the Grand Rapid, Mich., region therefore led the company to create a full-fledged apprenticeship program.
Its sister company, Expert Technical Training LLC, was spun off of Commercial Tool & Die in 2008 with a focus on training future mold makers, CNC machinists, die makers, and EDM operators. “This is a big focus at Commercial Tool and Die,” says Bouwman. “We are training younger employees to get the right people in the business.”
The company’s Department of Labor apprenticeship program “has been very successful. A lot of our really-good, current employees have come up through our apprenticeship program through Expert Technical Training.”
Expert Tech recruits candidates with strong mechanical aptitude and a solid work ethic. “We use different tools to evaluate potential candidates,” Bouwman explains. “We survey all employees so we know our culture and we know the type of people who succeed in our work environment.”
Candidates are evaluated “to make sure they can work hard.” This includes classwork taught at the company’s onsite classroom as well as the shop floor. “They learn skills over time on the shop floor,” Bouwman says. “When they are coming in at the apprentice level, they don’t have very many skills in the industry. We are teaching them the knowledge and they learn the actual skills for the shop floor through work experience.”
The apprenticeship program structures time in different areas for diverse job functions as well as classroom knowledge. The program is administered by the Expert Technical Training Co., a sister organization created in-house to combat the industry skills gap for Commercial Tool and Die Inc.
The company was founded in 1953 by James Bouwman’s grandfather Al. His father Doug then took an active role in the company starting in 1979.
Under Doug’s leadership, the company experienced steady growth in both its size and its customer base. With a 100,000 square foot manufacturing facility and the addition of the latest in CNC and design technologies “customers can rest assured their tooling will receive the highest level of quality service available,” the company says. “With our ongoing commitment to investment and growth, Commercial continues to balance the resources of advanced technology and it’s people to deliver quality tooling in record time. We are a leading manufacturer of plastic injection and die cast molds and, through our sister companies, fixtures, special machinery and custom molding. We provide quality service to the automotive, appliance, hardware and toy producing industries. By providing responsive, 24-hour customer service, Commercial has established a reputation for quality tooling and on-time delivery.”
About 70 percent of the company’s customers serve the automotive sector. The remaining 30 percent include the appliance and furniture industries. Customers vary and include such companies as GE, Toyota, Magna Intl. and Roechling Group. Its non-automotive work involves creating molds for office furniture and appliances.
The company is reinvesting for future success. “We’ve made really big investments in equipment in the last few years,” Bouwman says. As part of its continuous improvement and lean manufacturing efforts, the company has streamlined operations that were separate into single cells for added efficiency and greater quality control. It refines its systems constantly eliminating any waste.
The top priority is safety, however. “That is part of our culture,” Bouwman relates. “We have a really strong focus on safety.” A safety committee meets regularly and safety tenets are built into management procedures. Walk-through’s are conducted regularly to scour for non-compliance with safety policies, as well. The company has also conducted safety programs internally and externally, winning it several awards and commendations. A clean and safe work environment is the No. 1 priority for the company.
“That is a big part of our push. We have adopted safety into our culture so it is just part of the way everybody thinks,” Bouwman says.