Amerequip Corporation is taking a proactive approach to workforce developmentA growing northeastern Wisconsin manufacturer is taking proactive steps to recruit the workers it needs to keep up with its rapid expansion.

“Finding new employees can definitely be a challenge,” said Mike VanderZanden, president and CEO at AEM member Amerequip Corporation. “You really have to differentiate yourself.”

Located in Kiel, Wisconsin, Amerequip is reaching out to local high schools, technical schools and state colleges to find and develop future employees .

“You have to be creative,” said VanderZanden. “You can’t do what you’ve always done. You need to look at what’s attracting people and what their interests are.”

He said that philosophy drives Amerequip’s overall workforce development strategy, which looks at recruitment efforts on a position-by-position basis rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

Variety of Tactics

Amerequip uses a variety of tactics achieving its hiring goals. For example, the company has aggressively developed a co-op program for design and manufacturing engineers. About six state college students take part each year.

“The program lets us develop a pool of candidates so that when they’re ready to graduate, we can on-board them,” VanderZanden said.

To attract production workers like welders, he said, the company’s new plant expansion offers a climate-controlled environment, a state-of-the-art air purification system and numerous windows to bring in natural light.

In addition, Amerequip pays fees for students taking welding courses at local technical colleges in exchange for part-time work and a two-year employment commitment after they complete their training.

Amerequip also partners with nearby Moraine Park Technical College on 12-week “boot camps” in welding and machining. Boot camp participants spend one day each week at the company gaining practical experience and the other four days in the classroom.

“It gives welders and machinists a chance to get excited about our culture and work environment, and then we can on-board them from there,” VanderZanden said.

He said Amerequip also offers on-the-job training to employees who have never welded before but have expressed an interest. These employees are trained either internally or through an external resource, he said.

High School Outreach

Another component of the company’s efforts is a youth apprenticeship program for high school juniors and seniors seeking manufacturing careers. In place for the past four years, the program currently has 13 participants but is seeking up to 20.

Of the 40 students who have taken part in the program so far, about 50 percent have been retained, VanderZanden said.

“I’ve been impressed with the quality of the candidates from the youth apprenticeship program,” he said. “This has been a big help to our quality group as well as our machining and welding groups.”

Doug Thompson, vice president of operations at Amerequip, said two students who came up through the youth apprenticeship program three years ago now work in Amerequip’s Quality Department.

“They are very talented and we’re looking for them to grow with the company,” he said.

Thompson said plant tours have been another way to spark student interest in manufacturing careers. He said around 300 high school students a year tour the company’s facility.

“We still do all the things that a lot of companies do,” Thompson said. “We put ads in the paper, we advertise electronically, we have a referral program, we post at tech schools and colleges.”

“But if we weren’t making connections with high schools, tech schools and colleges, we would have a much more challenging environment finding talent to support our growth,” he said.