by Brittany Willes, contributing writer
The American Mold Builder

“Years back, we initiated the AMBA Chapter of the Year Award. Often what would clinch it for the winner would be the chapter’s work related to education and recruitment activities,” said Progressive Components President Glenn Starkey. “This year, we wanted to sponsor an award that would support AMBA member companies specifically in their educational outreach initiatives.” As a result, the Tooling Trailblazer of the Year award was introduced as a way to recognize members whose leadership has resulted in a notable impact in the area of education.

In partnership with Progressive Components, the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), Indianapolis, Indiana, established the award to recognize AMBA member accomplishments that have resulted in a notable impact in the area of education. The winning AMBA member company is presented with a prestigious award and receives a $5,000 scholarship from Progressive to be applied to an industry-related educational program, project or initiative of the member’s choice.

With the emphasis on educational outreach, it seems a natural fit that Westminster Tool Inc., Plainfield, Connecticut, be the first award recipient. Having championed tooling education within its community for several years, Westminster has developed a multifaceted approach toward outreach designed to maintain a sustaining pipeline of talented employees. This has led to an extended educational effort targeting middle school, high school and college-level students, as well as displaced workers.

“The greatest challenge all manufacturers face is bridging the skills gap,” stated Westminster Tool President Ray Coombs. “Those of us who make it our main focus will not only win but thrive for years to come. The Tooling Trailblazer award reinforces that we are doing something about the challenges of the skills gap and are gaining a market advantage by being a leader in the solution.”

One of the programs Westminster has developed, for example, is the Westminster Tool Shadow Program. Designed to encourage students and community members interested in learning more about injection mold manufacturing, the highly-structured shadowing initiative pairs interested individuals with a Westminster tool employee for a four-hour shadow period at the Westminster facility. Thus far, the program has met with great success. In 2016, Westminster hosted 11 students from six local schools – both high schools and community colleges – in an effort to promote career opportunities in manufacturing.

Another popular program, the “Learn-While-You-Earn” Scholarship, which Westminster sponsors and awards every year to a qualified applicant, promotes education while offering the recipient practical, real-life experience. The scholarship is granted to an individual who writes a compelling personal essay and successfully completes an interview with Westminster’s leadership team. The winner then is enrolled in the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate program at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson, Connecticut. In addition to tuition reimbursement and the promise of a full-time job opportunity upon completion of the program, the winner also is granted part-time employment at Westminster during the course of his or her education.

Other successful programs developed by Westminster include an annual Open House – directed toward middle and high school students with the intent of educating them and their families about the career pathways in mold manufacturing – and high school “Mock Interview” events where the company offers authentic professional feedback to older students preparing to enter the workforce.

When asked how Westminster’s outreach programs increase the visibility of the mold manufacturing industry, Kylee Carbone, director of human development and marketing, explained, “Manufacturing has unfortunately suffered from a reputation of being dark, dirty, dangerous and unskilled work. Westminster’s outreach initiatives have helped to remove some of those stigmas by educating the community about what mold manufacturing is and showcasing the lucrative career opportunities the industry offers. By engaging and educating the community, Westminster has had a positive effect on not only the local and academic community, but also legislation within Connecticut and at the federal level.”

Removing stigmas and showcasing opportunities resulted in greater interaction with schools and manufacturers throughout the state of Connecticut. For instance, for local technical high schools that offer manufacturing programs, Westminster works closely with them to help customize curricula. This ensures schools are able to design their programs with the most up-to-date industry standards. “We also provide much needed industry feedback to ensure schools are preparing their students in a manner that aligns with manufacturers’ expectations of recent graduates,” stated Carbone.

In addition to its work with schools and the surrounding community, Westminster has been heavily involved in being a voice for the manufacturing industry at the governmental level. For instance, Westminster serves as a voice for the manufacturing industry alongside members of the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA). In doing so, Carbone notes, it is able to provide valuable feedback while advising state representatives, senators and government officials regarding the needs and challenges facing local manufacturers.

In regards to continued outreach programs, Westminster has no plans to stop or slow down its efforts any time soon. According to Carbone, “The type of outreach Westminster Tool is committed to comes with a significant price. It has taken a level of patience and commitment that not everyone sees right away. We feel that our methods are having a positive effect for Westminster, and we will continue forward with them.”

For the foreseeable future, Westminster plans to maintain the strategic plan currently in place, with the immediate goal of increasing its outreach audience at every level.

“We know there is a national issue of an aging workforce in manufacturing,” stated Carbone. “We are proud that we didn’t just talk about the issue but challenged ourselves to find creative and exciting ways to reach the youth in our communities to show them the great opportunities open to them in a career in manufacturing. We recognize this is an area of discussion that doesn’t have a definitive solution; however, as a company that is committed to continuously improving and learning, educational outreach strategic planning is a priority at Westminster Tool.”

It’s not difficult to see why Westminster Tool was selected as the first recipient of the Tooling Trailblazer of the Year award. With its clear dedication to educational and community outreach, Westminster is determined to promote and grow the moldmaking industry.

When asked what receiving the award means for Westminster, Coombs stated, “In this world, there are talkers and doers. At Westminster, our mission is to create opportunities, and our passion is improving the quality of life for everyone involved with Westminster Tool.

“This award is an honor, because it reinforces that the industry also recognizes and values the steps we are taking at Westminster Tool to be more than a company that manufactures molds for the plastics industry,” he continued. “We are a company that puts more value in the human spirit, grows people to reach their potential and is trying to change the face of manufacturing. There are fantastic opportunities out there – we want to share that. Our motto – Focus on the ‘who,’ and the ‘what’ will take care of itself – has been our primary market differentiator.”