Tour Events in Lafayette, Southern Indiana Connect Education with Industry

20140625_TF_Subaru_Legacy_Associates-8The Indiana Chamber recently co-sponsored two industry tours that brought educators and employers together to find ways to align efforts and better meet the needs of students.

The first event was in Lafayette at Subaru of Indiana Automotive. Educators, counselors and administrators listened to representatives from Caterpillar, Nanshan America, Kirby Risk, Duke Energy and Chrysler Group. Each employer seemed to be facing the same issue – a significant portion of their employees will soon be eligible for retirement and the current talent pool cannot replenish their workforce.

The group toured the Subaru plant, where they saw nearly every process for building a vehicle. Subaru, like many manufacturers, hires employees of almost all educational backgrounds, from high school diploma to master’s degree.

The next industry tour was in the southwest region at NSA Crane, a United States Navy installation. The base is the third largest naval installation in the world by geographic area and employs approximately 3,300 people.

Representatives from GKN Sinter Metals, TASUS Corporation, Cook Group and Jasper Engines all spoke about their workforces. Overwhelmingly, employer needs center on soft skills (communication, basic math and professionalism) and workforce readiness.

Matt Weinzapfel of Jasper Engines reported that 48% of their workforce hold an associate’s degree and/or technical certification and 36% hold no post-secondary degree, while only 16% hold bachelor’s degrees.

The group toured the Crane naval base and learned about jobs in electronic warfare, strategic missions and special missions. The base also offers internships within the various sectors.

“All of these jobs sitting open can be filled if we break down the knowledge barriers and reach students,” said Dan Peterson, vice president industry & government affairs, Cook Group.

The Indiana Youth Institute hosted the events, with the Center for Education and Career Innovation and the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning also co-sponsoring.

Canada Moving Forward After Pipeline Rejection

The January decision by the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline drew plenty of criticism in the United States. Canadian officials, while accepting the explanation offered, are concerned, and they are not sitting back and waiting for a potential change of course from their southern neighbors.

Roy Norton, Consul General of Canada, spent last week at meetings and events in Indiana. Norton is responsible for Canadian interests in trade, investment, the environment and more in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. Norton provided his analysis of the Washington rejection of the pipeline that would transport oil resources from the tar sands of Alberta province to the U.S. gulf coast.

Norton says Canadians are “disposed to take at face value the assurances that President Obama offered Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper that this was a process-related issue, not a substantive decision.” In other words, Obama cited additional environmental review due to Nebraska seeking a rerouting of the pipeline and a deadline set by Congress as the reasons for the rejection at this time.

Although TransCanada, the energy infrastructure company behind the pipeline, has indicated it will reapply for a U.S permit, Norton described the significance of the relationship between the two countries and the next steps for Canada that are already in progress.

“There is concern. Ever since NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), our resources have been predicated on the notion that we would develop them to export them to you (the U.S.), and 99% of Canadian oil exports have come to the United States. The entire industry has been organized on a principle that suddenly may seem in question: Does the United States continue to want that oil? And if you don’t, we’re not going to just stop developing it.

“The prime minister made clear, in a little jocular way, that we’re not a northern national park for the United States.” Norton continues. “We’re a G7 country with an industrial economy. We happen to sit on the third largest reserve of oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Ours, other than the U.S., is the only one (oil supply) not government controlled; it’s total private sector investment.”

Harper traveled to Asia earlier this month and entered into an agreement on energy cooperation with the Chinese.

“Our objective, very much,” Norton adds, “is to build a pipeline to (our) West Coast and to be able to sell oil to China, Japan, whoever. Two or three years ago, the prime minister said Canada is an emerging energy superpower. Somebody challenged that and said you can’t be a superpower if you have only one market. So, in business terms, it’s probably true that it’s prudent for us to have more than one market. So we will seek to diversify.”

Norton closes with some of the numbers related to Canadian oil production and potential benefits for the U.S. and Indiana from the proposed pipeline:

  • Sixty cents of every dollar invested in the Alberta oil sands come back to the United States in consumption. “You benefit more from Canadian resource development than you benefit as a country from resource development (anywhere else).”
  • Currently, $160 billion in private sector investment is underway to take production of the oil sands from two billion barrels a day to three and a half billion barrels a day.
  • That increase, with the pipeline, could create “in the order of 343,000 jobs in the United States, 7,500 of those in Indiana” – citing Caterpillar and dozens of other Indiana operations that currently or would supply the oil production and the pipeline.

The Chamber’s May-June BizVoice® magazine will have more from Norton on issues important to Indiana and his country.

Walkerton Tool & Die: 50 Years and Counting

Walkerton Tool & Die began 50 years ago, when Harold Rizek started the business in his mother’s garage, performing second-hand drilling and tapping operations for Caterpillar. Now, his son Scott runs the company, although Harold remains a key part of the daily operation.

"He’s still day-to-day; he’s 76, and still here every day at 7 a.m. doing what he needs to do," Scott says of his father. "Just seeing what he can do at that age is great motivation, even for me. It doesn’t surprise me the company’s been going for 50 years because of the great work ethic he instills – and all the guys do, really."

Caterpillar remains the company’s largest customer — and all of its customers reside in the Midwest. While providing parts to Caterpillar has remained a constant part of the company’s business, Scott explains the industry has changed over the years.

"Back in the 1960’s, tool fixturing and dies were where the money was," he says. " Today, we really don’t do tool and die work or fixtures, it’s mostly short-run to high-production machining. You went from the highly skilled die makers and tool makers (to more tech-based production), but the technology is leaps and bounds ahead."

He adds that the economic decline in recent years caused the company to change how it operated.

"With the downturn, we saw volumes go down," Scott relays. "So we had to get more efficient. We moved machines into cells so one machinist runs two machines… and we invest in new equipment with faster machining times to help productivity. We were coping with lower volumes, but getting more economical to still turn a profit."

In the future, Walkerton Tool & Die will likely further diversify its capabilities to meet customer needs.

"Over the years, my father built the company to where we don’t specialize in one size of part," Scott offers.  "We can run little parts off of bar feed lathe and we can go up to seven feet long; we’ve machined some big axels for bulldozers. So we want to keep diversifying our machine capabilities as far as sizes, and that will help us in the long run."

He adds that many patrons who come into the shop are surprised by how much activity goes on in the 17,000 square foot building.

"One thing people always tell me, whether it’s a customer, a salesman, or a new guy coming in, is that our shop isn’t super huge but when you get in here, everything’s organized, it’s a clean shop and it’s a lot of technology," Scott notes. "Everything’s compact in here and it makes us more efficient as far as moving parts from machine to machine. A lot of people say they’ve driven by here for years and can’t believe what it’s like inside."

All told, Scott looks forward to 50 more years of productivity from the Walkerton business, which remains a point of stability in an industry and economic climate that are sometimes precarious.  

"In this trade, if you’re in business 50 years, you must be doing something right because it’s tough to stay in business nowadays," he concludes.