Community - Mar 1, 2022
Cultivating a workforceRobert Cloud | waupacanow.com
Workforce development has been part of Waupaca Foundry’s mission for decades.
The company encourages its employees to obtain further education and training to advance their careers at the foundry.
The foundry has subsidized classes in management and engineering, worked with local high schools and Fox Valley Technical College.
According to Mike Nikolai, Waupaca Foundry’s president, CEO and COO, education represents an investment.
“The best thing you can do is grow your employees from within,” he said. “These are the people that generally stay with you.”
Nikolai said the foundry has been working with Waupaca High School to recruit summer interns.
“My son, Sam, worked in the metallurgical lab,” Nikolai said. “Now, he’s going to the Colorado School of Mines engineering School.”
Waupaca Foundry hires more than 50 college interns every summer, some of whom continue to work with the foundry after they graduate.
“I personally meet with every intern at the end of the summer,” Nikolai said. “All our marketing people have gone through the intern program here.”
As part of its outreach to high school students, the foundry has helped Waupaca High School develop a robotics team.
This year, there are 10 students on the robotics team and, for the first time, girls are members of the team.
David Scott, the foundry’s director of tooling, plays a major role in mentoring the students on robotics.
“He had strong experience with the robotics team at his high school,” Nikolai said, noting that Scott’s son is involved with the team.
Nikolai said the foundry’s efforts with college and high school students involves educating them about how robotics and automation have changed the work experience there.
“Foundry work is hard work, but it’s not the same as it was 20 years ago,” Nikolai said.
Engineers at the plant are central to the foundry’s modern production processes.
The foundry employs engineers to design its cast iron parts and its automated production processes.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanical and industrial engineers are second and third in projected job growth among engineers. Together, these two occupations will be among the fastest growing occupations in manufacturing.
Waupaca Foundry employs nearly 140 engineers at its six foundries and two machining facilities nationwide.
As with many companies for the past year, the foundry has had difficulty finding production employees.
They have cast a wide net in their search for labor.
“We’re going to have about 200 temporary employees in Waupaca from South America and south Texas,” Nikolai said.
He noted that some of the employees are coming through staffing services on amnesty visas from Venezuela.
Nikolai described his own personal frustration with the government over its immigration policies.
“I support secure borders, but we need a bipartisan solution and a pathway to legal immigration,” he said.
Nikolai said the employees from South America and Texas are staying in local hotels, but a more economically feasible long-term solution is needed.
“We would be willing to make investments in housing if we knew there was a path to immigration,” Nikolai said.
He said the foundry’s CFO, Rob Johnson, is working with Waupaca City Administrator Aaron Jenson to find developers who could build affordable housing in the area.