Internships and Flexible Job Training Help Wagner Machine Fight the Persistent Skilled Labor Shortage

To combat a nagging labor shortage, Wagner Machine put promising solutions in place: internships and on-the-job training.

The company has had success on both fronts with an initiative that appeals to students and new employees who want to learn more skills.

Intern Path

Interns arrive in different ways, primarily through recruitment efforts at area high schools (including special career-focused events). Some students work a few hours several times a week. By design, they’re able to leave school early, replacing a late day study hall for part of the internship

“Schools have been very open to helping us with the internships. Counselors identify students who show an interest in manufacturing,” says Courtney Wagner, president of Wagner Machine.

Internships are a long-term remedy and reflect Wagner Machine’s commitment to supporting the community.

Full-Time Workers

Wagner Machine has taken the extraordinary step of letting prospective employees know they can start in one position and get additional training in several different roles. “For example, we have found mechanics who have a great aptitude for machining.”

They learn everything from machine tooling to finishings and inspection. “It’s all about finding

the right fit for them so they can feel comfortable doing what they enjoy most,” she says.

“We design the position based on the needs of the worker. Some people may discover their sweet spot in a couple months. Others may take a year,” Wagner says. “Either timeline is fine with us.”

The expectation is that Wagner Machine will end up with an employee who stays with the company for a long time. And that’s the norm. Turnover is low at Wagner Machine, which offers competitive wages and benefits packages. More than half of the workers have been with Wagner Machine at least 10 years – some as many as 20 years.

The company makes an effort to accommodate employees’ personal needs and schedules even within rigid production schedules shaped to match customers’ demands. For example, a worker can arrive a little later than normal to drop a child off at a daycare center.

“We’re sensitive to the practical circumstances that anyone can face daily or other situations that arise. We all have things going on in our lives,” she says. “With cross-training, we’re well positioned to help employees and still complete machining and fabrication projects on time.”

Wagner Machine certainly emphasizes the need for skills and training. But other factors come into play for anyone the company hires – variables like disposition and character.

“You can teach them on a machine; you can’t teach them to be a great person,” Wagner says.

Unfortunately, worker shortages will persist as long as society continues to downplay skilled trades as a viable career path, she says.

College is the most popular next step for high school students. But, as Wagner notes, it’s not always the right course to take. Students often change majors and don’t get through in four years. By the time a graduate has earned a degree, they have amassed a heavy load of student loans that totaled $1.4 trillion in 2018. In many cases, they’re saddled by loans while someone who learns a trade also works full-time much sooner, according to numerous trends and studies like the following:Tuition for college is growing almost eight times faster than what people earn (Forbes based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis).

  • Even after inflation, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges more than doubled over the past 25 years (Forbes, citing data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics).
  • About 60 percent of student debt borrowers believe they will be in their 40s before paying off their loans (OneWisconsin Institute).
  • Students in four-year colleges switch their majors 33% of the time (U.S. Department of Education).
  • Nearly 74% of workers with occupational credentials (trade school or certification) are still in the same industry even six years after high school, compared with 53% who earned a college degree (U.S. Department of Education).

“Skilled laborers have much to offer manufacturing and the economy overall,” Wagner says. “We’re committed to helping people make a good living and enjoy what they do.”

Would you like to learn more about careers at Wagner Machine? Contact us today or call 330-706-0700.

If you have custom machining and fabrication needs, get a quote.