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Milwaukee companies team up to train veterans in high-tech manufacturing

Posted at 6:53 AM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 07:53:51-04

MILWAUKEE — Two Milwaukee companies are teaming up to recruit and train military veterans to become skilled workers in high-tech manufacturing.

It’s not only because of their desire to give back and do good things for vets. It’s also because the economy desperately needs it.

Manpower Group recruits, screens, and refers qualified candidates to attend The Academy of Advanced Manufacturing at Rockwell Automation. It’s a 12 week, intensive training program.

Rockwell pays room and board, a salary, and provides the training at no cost. “We're helping them take the skills, the technical skills they developed in the military and redeploy them for manufacturing,” explained Mary Burgoon. She oversees the program as a Business Development Manager at Rockwell Automation. “We serve as the bridge from military to manufacturing.”

They recruit veterans from across the country, with a focus on finding those with specific skills.

Rockwell brands itself, “the World’s leading automation and information solutions provider for manufacturing.” So the company is looking for vets with a technical background. “While we love to help all veterans we're focused on those with a strong technical skillset, Burgoon said. “So individuals that were avionics technicians. They were tech mechanics, electronics technicians, fire control men, perhaps they were missile systems specialists, and that's who we target.”

Rockwell is focused not only on helping vets but also helping its customers.

A recent CNN Business report estimates 500,000 job openings in manufacturing in the U.S. alone.

Rockwell Automation is in more than 100 countries. Burgoon says they need to supply customers not only with hardware and software but people who know how to use it.

“Many of our customers are investing or will invest in this technology but they don't have the people in place now that can run it, that can optimize it. So, what we're doing is helping them protect that investment, that current investment, or a future investment as well. Yes, it is a win, win, win for everybody.”

It sounded too good to be true for Marine Corps Veteran Dustin Rodgers. “I was a little hesitant, but I took a leap of faith,” Rodgers admitted.

Originally from Mississippi, he worked on helicopters in the military but was skeptical that manufacturing was the challenge he was looking for.

“I am from a blue-collar town. There is still a lot of manufacturing there, so I had this conception that you come in. You do a menial task for however many years until you retire and that was it. No advancement. No innovation in the industry,” Rodgers said.

His training with Rockwell in 2019 opened his eyes to modern manufacturing.

“Once I got to AAM and went through the program and looked at the job offers that were there, especially Rockwell, it was a surprise that there's a lot of innovation going into it. It's a lot faster-paced than what it was during our grandparents’ time.”

Rodgers, now full-time at Rockwell, is working on a largely automated manufacturing line he helped set up. “A lot of this stuff is not out, mass-produced yet for other factories or other companies. So we're basically the testing and proving grounds.

There's no one to call for help. We have to figure out how to do it on our own. Come up with procedures for it. Then after that make sure it works time and time again.”

While Manpower and Rockwell are looking for specific skill sets in the recruits for this program, there are intangibles that so many veterans provide. “Great work ethic. They've been stress tested. When the line is down, everybody is screaming at them, they're calm under pressure. They've been through worse situations,” Burgoon said of the 225 graduates of the program. “They also are great on teams, right? They really know how to function well on teams. And they just have a strong sense of urgency to work together to solve the problem.”

Right now the problem is staffing the U.S. economic rebound.

Rockwell Automation is doing it one veteran at a time, with Academy training still running at half capacity due to COVID. They hope to ramp up, and even expand the program, in 2022, with an economy that is begging for it.

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