ROYALTON, Vt.—As its manufacturing and technology center in Royalton undergoes a $10 million expansion, the hiring sign is out again at GW Plastics Inc. for engineers and hourly workers.
Founded in 1955, GW Plastics, which is based in nearby Bethel, Vt., produces complex thermoplastic and silicone components and assemblies for customers in the health care, automotive, consumer and industrial markets.
With $173 million in annual sales, GW Plastics ranks No. 54 among North American injection molders. That's up from $165.5 million the previous year and $153 million two years ago.
Because of its sustained growth, GW Plastics was recently inducted into the Vermont Business Hall of Fame by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and a local business magazine.
About 10 minutes from the headquarters, the growth is visible at the 24-acre Royalton campus, which serves as the main hub for product and process development, mold making, molding and training. GW Plastics is putting a 30,000-square foot addition onto the facility and creating 30 new positions.
"This is a significant expansion, so we will have a number of open positions through the rest of the year," Cathy Tempesta, GW Plastics's vice president of human resources, said in a phone interview.
She is looking to fill five engineering positions and a dozen hourly jobs. Attracting and developing a skilled workforce is no easy task for advanced manufacturers, especially in a small rural state like Vermont, where the regional labor pool is tight and college graduates often set their sights on other professions in bigger cities.
Tempesta attends high school and college job fairs and keeps administrators up to date about GW Plastics' internships and scholarships. The company relies on a couple of programs to fill its talent pipeline.
GW Plastics launched its School of Technology in 2015 as a form of educational outreach to high school students as early as ninth grade. They go by bus to the company for two-hour classes about the facets of manufacturing. Students earn science credits as they learn about material selection, mold design, mold making, injection molding, quality and pricing.
"Our goal is to show students in ninth through 12th grades who we are and what to do and let them know they have an opportunity to have a career here," Tempesta said. "Students who are mechanically inclined could join us right out of high school."
To tap into post-secondary schools, GW Plastics offers a summer internship program for local college engineering students. They earn $15.50 an hour as they are exposed to all engineering positions in the company. Interns are assigned mentors and asked to complete work projects by the end of the 14-week program. The projects are formally presented to senior managers to give students experience in discussing business solutions and later to bolster their resumes.
Tempesta said GW Plastics has had some standout interns. For one summer project, a student created a 3D catalog of commonly used automation and molding equipment for the company's cost-estimating library.
"Cost estimators can access a central location for assistance. A lot of the work has been done, and they can pull it from the library," Tempesta said.
Another intern caught the attention of company officials by quickly grasping new software for the tooling division.
"He's got a lot of promise," Tempesta said. "We've worked with some really sharp young adults. I have a lot of hope from what I've seen."
GW Plastics' high school and college programs open students' eyes, too.
"I think many young adults look at advanced manufacturing from their parents or grandparents' lenses. Their perception goes back to when there was no air conditioning, it was dirty, and it was sweatshop foundry kind of work," Tempesta said.
She likes to get high school and college students in the door to dispel myths about manufacturing as much as put GW Plastics on young job radars.
"When students come in, nine times out 10, almost 10 times out of 10, they say, 'I had no idea this is what it's like.' We're highly automated," Tempesta said. "They see a lot of robotics. It's clean and tidy. The processes are very efficient."
GW Plastics' facilities—there are eight worldwide—house sophisticated technology like 3D printers for plastic and steel and robotically assisted injection molding.
In another effort to develop a skilled workforce for its facilities, GW Plastics offers scholarships to incoming freshmen of Vermont Technical College who are pursuing an associate degree in mechanical engineering technology. The scholarship recipients also participate in the paid internship program at least one year.
"The scholarship virtually covers the cost of their tuition, and they get a guaranteed summer internship in between their freshman and sophomore years," Tempesta said.
In the last few years, about 10 graduates from Vermont Technical have gone to work at GW Plastics.
"They're some of the strongest, highest potential young engineers," Tempesta said. "It's great that they can work alongside our mature employees. They're learning the ropes to take over when the experienced engineers retire."
Some of the training and internship programs offered in Vermont have been implemented at other sites and eventually will be in full operation at every location, Tempesta said. In addition to the Bethel headquarters and two facilities in Royalton, GW Plastics has sites in Tucson, Ariz.; San Antonio, Texas; Sligo, Ireland; Dongguan, China; and Queretaro, Mexico.