Geoff O’Brien understands that the development of new talent is among the highest priorities facing manufacturing over the next decade. O’Brien, president of Warren-based Proper Group International Inc., is connecting with other manufacturers to feature the high-tech, innovative career opportunities available to the next generation.
“We currently have four different generations working in our facility and sometimes that can be a nightmare,” said O’Brien. “Each generation has its own view of manufacturing.”
More than half of Michigan’s current manufacturing workforce will reach retirement age within the next ten years. The talent issue must be addressed.
“The U.S. tool industry suffers from more than a $3 billion capacity gap,” said O’Brien. “That’s a clear indicator of our problem and it’s not just tooling — it’s all manufacturers. The talent is out there. We just haven’t been connecting with them. You have to work a lot harder to keep workers interested and we haven’t done that.”
O’Brien views Michigan’s talent solution as a mix of collaboration and innovation. One method for keeping workers interested is showing them a clear path toward better jobs and greater responsibility.
“Skilled trades programs in many high schools are gone,” said O’Brien. “We’re working to build them back, but much of attracting talent is going to be internal. Apprenticeship programs are very important. They offer hands-on opportunities that aren’t available anywhere else.”
Proper Group, under O’Brien’s leadership, has taken many routes in a strategic approach to attracting talent. By partnering with veteran networks, universities, community colleges, high schools, state-based training programs such as the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program and Proper Group’s development of an expansive apprenticeship program, O’Brien is striking at the talent problem from all sides.
“It’s always fun to see the shock and interest in their eyes when students see the cleanliness, the innovations, the technology that goes into what we do,” said O’Brien of the programs helping students connect manufacturing processes with their real-world application. “It’s not what they imagined it would be. It’s better.”
His unique take on talent initiatives allows O’Brien to go above and beyond what is expected of a manufacturer. His focus is not only on today’s bottom line but the potential rewards of a thriving workforce tomorrow. His willingness to pave the way for others to follow has earned him the 2014 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Special Achievement Award for Commitment and Innovation to Talent Development.
“Celebrations like Michigan Manufacturing Week show that interest in manufacturing is still there,” said O’Brien. “It took us a while to understand the needs of the next generation, but once we did we embraced it. Today’s students want exciting jobs that serve a purpose. Manufacturing does that. Working in manufacturing is not just a job, it’s an incredible career.”
This article appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of MiMfg Magazine.