New skills means new customers

Shawn Wright | Crain’s Detroit Business

In today’s fast-paced advanced manufacturing sector, the need for employees to be on top of new technology and software is key. But the time, money and resources aren’t always there for a company to stay ahead of the curve.

Beaver Aerospace & Defense Inc. and PSI Repair Services, subsidiaries of Livonia-based Phillips Service Industries, were in need of upskilling their respective workforces. They needed to do a better job of meeting their customers’ needs and also attract new business

“It’s really critical that our employees are aware of the latest, in terms of the tools used within this industry, both from a manufacturing standpoint as well as operational business practices,” said Dana Davis, staffing services manager for Phillips Service Industries. “For those reasons, we knew it was time to do more comprehensive training on those types of skills.”

Beaver Aerospace designs and manufactures ball screws and actuators for the commercial and defense aerospace industries. PSI Repair offers repair and engineering services to resolve poorly performing electronics, hydraulics, robotics and precision mechanical assemblies.

Last summer, Davis was contacted by the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) about the state’s InnoState program, funded by a $2.1 million Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Challenge grant. InnoState helps new product contract manufacturing companies, with the goal of helping them expand their markets, increase their business and compete globally.

InnoState is a collaboration of WIN, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Connection Point, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, the Business Accelerator Network of Southeast Michigan and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Davis sat down with representatives from WIN, the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA) and Schoolcraft Community College to discuss the high-level training areas Beaver and PSI Repair needed.

“Schoolcraft went down the list and said, ‘We can do this, this and this,’” Davis said. “From there, Schoolcraft was the one that did a lot of the logistical work: the securing of instructors, finding a classroom, doing documentation that we had to do to apply for the grant and helping us walk through that with our other partners at the InnoState program.”

Last December, Beaver and PSI Repair began to send their employees to Schoolcraft to receive specialized training. The cadence is one or two classes at a time, Davis said, with about 30 people having already gone through the program. Training is done in about a day, with the date and time easily selected to work around the companies’ busy workload and schedule. Through the InnoState grant, the two companies were approved for up to $45,000 in training funds.

A lot of the curriculum and courses were already offered at Schoolcraft, Davis said. But where more specialized training was needed to be developed, the community college was more than willing to accommodate.

“They would sit down with the manager of a specific area here within our company, (Schoolcraft’s) instructor and then design the types of things we wanted to do,” Davis said. “I believe that we would not have been able to provide the number of trainings we have been able to do, in such a quick time, without Schoolcraft and this grant.”

It’s this type of pliability between academia and industry that she said is helping prepare students to be the best employees they can be.

“From a national standpoint, (higher education) realized they’re preparing students to go work, but they didn’t necessarily have the means to have a conversation with the employer they’re sending them to work for,” Davis said. “It’s definitely a more open flow and partnership with the schools than it used to be.”