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Millennials in Manufacturing – Precision Plus’ Interns Featured in Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce Video

Michael Reader

Several of Elkhorn, WI’s Precision Plus’s summer college or college-bound interns were recently interviewed to get their take on working at a 21st century high tech manufacturing facility. The video was produced by Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce, Wisconsin’s Chamber of Commerce, to celebrate Wisconsin Manufacturing Month.

Here are some of the comments from the interns:

  • “You create something from a piece of bar.”
  • “You can touch and see something you drew on the computer”
  • “You get to operate machinery that’s really expensive and they trust you.”
  • “In the classroom, you learn all of the logistics, but here you actually get to do it.”
  • “You look forward to the challenges, but you know that if you get stuck, you can ask someone.”
  • “Expectations are not right. This is not a manufacturing plant from the 1800s!”
  • “You’re just not sitting down. You’re constantly moving!”

Precision Plus is proud to have both internship and apprenticeship programs that connect millennials with manufacturing, providing hands-on experience that is bound to contribute to their future and the future of our country.

For more information on Precision Plus’ internship and apprenticeship programs, please contact Mark Beilman, Director of Education and Training by email, or by phone at 262-743-1700.

Firm Makes Precision Parts, Builds Talent – Precision Plus in the News

Michael Reader

This is a reprint of an article authored by Chris Schultz, which first appeared in the Lake Geneva News on July 21, 2015

Firm makes precision parts, builds talent

POINTING THE WAY, Barry Butters, education coordinator at Precision Plus, Elkhorn, leads Reggie Newson, right, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, on a tour of the Precision Plus work floor during Newson’s visit to the plant on July 15.

July 21, 2015 | 10:23 AM

ELKHORN — Reggie Newson, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development secretary, said he was impressed with Precision Plus, 840 Koopman Lane.

Newson paid a visit to the company on July 15. It was his first time at Precision Plus

The relatively small, privately-owned firm is a modern facility with state-of-the-art machinery that specializes in precision-turned metal components for a variety of uses, from cuff links to military ordnance.

But more importantly, the company is manufacturing talent, Newson said.

Three years ago, Mike Reader, president and CEO of Precision Plus started a training program that brought in high school and college students from Wisconsin and Illinois, teaching them the basics of precision engineering and manufacturing, and giving them real-life experience on the work floor.

Reader also hired Barry Butters, a former teacher and school administrator in Elkhorn and Williams Bay, as the company’s education services coordinator.

Precision Plus has done well, fitting into its niche of shaping metal pieces to precise tolerances.

The company recently more than doubled its floorspace, going from about 45,000-square-feet to more than 100,000-square-feet.

It is also installing 100 kilowatt solar panels on the roof.

“It’s the largest industrial solar array in Walworth County,” Reader said. The array will feed sun-created electrical power into the building’s main panel and excess will go out on the grid. Reader said he’s working with the local utility so his company can earn credits for the electricity it creates.

But the company’s self-proclaimed mission of reaching out to students interested in manufacturing and enrolling them in the company’s apprentice training program has attracted interest from educators and business owners across the state.

In 2014, the company added a new education center with eight precision computer learning stations where, without wasting a single piece of metal, students can see how a part is cut and shaved and shaped by one of the company’s computer numeric control (CNC) lathes.

Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, California, makes the software for the virtual machining simulation.

The company donated $100,000 in computer software to Precision Plus for the education center.

Butters has said that the CNC machines, which operate in three dimensions, are smart. The human operators have to be smarter.

For its efforts, Precision Plus also won the 2014 State Superintendent Business Friends of Education Award.

Newson said he wished he had “50 or so” other manufacturing employers with him on the tour. “They are having a challenging time finding talented individuals to fill their positions,” he said.

Precision Plus has developed a strong relationship with Elkhorn Area High School, and JoAnne Pella, the school’s career and technical education coordinator.

KEEPING HER EYES on the job, Amanda Mudlaff, an apprentice at Precision Plus, is an East Troy High School graduate and student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Photo by Chris Schultz/Regional News.

The company and school coordinate an annual Manufacturing Careers Panel at Elkhorn High School, where leading manufacturers are invited in to talk with students interested in the business of making things.

Reader said Precision Plus is also collaborating with Scott Forge in Illinois in the apprentice training program.

Reader said he is now trying to create an intern exchange program with Swiss precision manufacturers.

Precision Plus has 16 high school and college students in the apprentice program now.

Newson said he was impressed with the knowledge and self-confidence of the students who are participating in Precision Plus’ program

“This is the model,” Newson said during a sit down talk with students in the Precision Plus apprenticeship program.

About three years ago, manufacturers around the state were complaining that schools were not producing enough talent to fit their needs, said Reader. And he decided about that time “it’s time to stop whining about it, and get involved.”

Reader said he’s still reaching out to educators to get them involved in getting information to students about the futures in manufacturing.

And, he said, he wants to convince other companies that training future engineers is in their own best interests, even if the engineers they train don’t wind up working for them.

He described the progress as “slow but sure.”

“This is a long-term project,” Reader said. “This is years in the making.”

The best salespersons may be the apprentices themselves.

Newson said he became interested in Precision Plus after meeting student Kyle Gorst at a Project Lead the Way conference at Elkhorn High School last year, where Gorst gave a speech and presentation about his apprenticeship at Precision Plus

Newson said he was so impressed with Gorst’s presentation about the Precision Plus program that he decided to visit. Among the students he met at Precision Plus were Amanda Mudlaff, an East Troy High School graduate, now attending Milwaukee School of Engineering, while gaining practical experience working on projects at Precision Plus

She was the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship to MSOE.

Brittany Campbell, a Badger High School graduate who races in the Midwest small car racing circuit has an interest in automotive design.

She’s been in the program for two years and is now in her sophomore year at MSOE.

Ryan Reader, Mike’s son, is also in the program.

Brad Pearson, now at Blackhawk Technical College, said his parents at first weren’t happy with his decision to go into manufacturing.

Many still think manufacturing in terms of the “3Ds,” Pierson said. That is, dumb, dirty and dangerous work.

He said his parents’ concerns weren’t allayed until Reader and Butters took them on a guided tour of the well-lit, atmosphere-controlled Precision Parts plant.

“We had to convince mom and dad, no doubt,” Butters said.

Newson said he was impressed with the level of proficiency the students were demonstrating on the production floor.

“You are very talented and you’re doing it. You’re running the machines.” Newson told the students.

Newson said that the Wall Street Journal did a study and found that students with work and intern experience, even those with mediocre grades, were far more likely to be hired by manufacturing companies than students without experience, even those with the high grades.

Newson said there are hundreds of companies now with programs similar to Precision Plus, “but we want thousands.”

He said there are now 3,000 students who are part of the state’s youth Apprenticeship program, an increase from 2,500 just a few years ago. Many of the Youth Apprentice programs are coordinated through the state’s Cooperative Education Service Agency (CESA) districts.

“Youth Apprenticeship is one of our big programs we want to promote,” Newson said.

Before leaving, Newson asked what he could do. Reader said it was important that the state get the word out about the apprenticeship programs to other manufacturers in the state.

“They haven’t seen it, they haven’t heard about it and they can’t figure it out for themselves.” Reader said.

“I want to see this everywhere,” Reader added. “Help us get that message out.”

A Day in the Life of Precision Plus Apprentice Amanda Mudlaff

Michael Reader

So, what does it take to be a Precision Plus apprentice?

This is Amanda’s story.

Amanda Mudlaff is your typical high school senior, involved in sports—track and field, including pole vaulting, cheerleading, dancing…and homework.  Her extracurricular activities include being an FFA member, a wrestling manager, a multi-cultural club member, and a youth cheerleading coach. She is also a member of the National Honor Society.

Amanda also loves everything marine related. She practically grew up “living” on boats during her summers in Wisconsin, enjoying water sports, boating, and helping take care of her family’s Sea Ray 250 SLX. In fact, her passion for the marine field has inspired her to pursue a degree in marine engineering.

When her junior year shop teacher at East Troy High School mentioned a summer internship opportunity at Precision Plus, Amanda jumped at the opportunity. Not knowing what to expect, she was impressed with the process, as it required filling out an application, going to a formal interview, and having to wait about a week to get a reply. She was accepted into the program, along with 18 other interns, selected from dozens of applications.

The paid summer internship was held from June 15 through the last week of August of 2014, and it required interns to work 40 hours per week. The program included classroom time to learn and design with Autodesk Inventor CAD and PartMaker CAM software, as well as plant, machinery and business processes observation, and hands-on learning on tools and equipment.

When in the summer of 2014, Precision Plus announced their 2014-2015 Apprenticeship Program, Amanda turned in her application again and was subsequently accepted as one of six apprentices. The program expects active participation at both the company and their respective high schools, and the apprentices must adhere to a number of academic standards.

Monday through Friday, Amanda arrives at Precision Plus at 6am and primarily works in the Quality Lab, where she counts the components for a particular order, inspects the finish and checks all dimensions against order specs. She inspects parts visually for chips and she also uses equipment such as calipers, micrometers, oasis, comparators, and gauges to help streamline the process, making sure to record all discrepancies and accept or reject the components. She compares the inspection process with that of an active investigation, where no stone remains unturned.

At 9am, Amanda leaves the plant to go to class, and tend to all of her extracurricular activities.

This fall, Amanda will begin a new chapter in her life as a freshman at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she will pursue marine engineering as a career. Amanda is also a recipient of one of two $5,000 Precision Plus MSOE merit scholarships.

For more information about Precision Plus’ Summer Internship and School-Year Apprenticeship Programs, please contact Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training via phone or email.

Precision Plus Featured in Wisconsin STEM Pathways Magazine, Fall 2014

Michael Reader

Precision Plus is honored to be featured in the latest issue of Wisconsin STEM Pathways Magazine.  The article, entitled Companies in the Classroom–Putting the Classroom in the Workplace, chronicles the company’s two year journey from a concept to the reality of having an internship and a apprenticeship program for high school and college students, as well as a fully equipped classroom within its facilities.  To download a PDF of the complete article, click here.