MJSP grant paves the way
Harold Torrence, a supervisory management instructor at Dakota County Technical College, reported that an advanced training partnership between the college and Uponor North America has yielded superb results. Thanks to a nearly $300,000 Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grant, DCTC Customized Training delivered leadership and fire safety training to Uponor employees onsite at the company and at the college’s Apple Valley site.
“Uponor has contributed roughly 9,000 in-kind employee hours to the two-year project,” Torrence said. “The company, which is the largest private employer in Apple Valley, is applying the training to better compete globally while responding to the needs of a diverse workforce.”
Uponor ranks as the pioneering world leader in the production of crosslinked polyethylene tubing, commonly known as PEX tubing, for heating, plumbing, fire safety and commercial systems. With its North American headquarters in Apple Valley, Minn., Uponor has built 30 years of experience in the field with more than 12 billion feet of its PEX tubing installed worldwide.
Greg Lawler, vice president of supply chain at Uponor North America, said that DCTC proved the ideal partner for such advanced-level training. “DCTC gave us the guidance and know-how to go after the MJSP grant in the first place,” Lawler said. “The college has the resources to deliver the training content we needed. We could never have achieved the same results in the same amount of time without DCTC.”
Eric Fiedler, manager of learning and organization development at Uponor North America, stated that the training focused on action-learning during real projects, moving beyond business operations and actually changing the way people approach their jobs.
“The training partnership with DCTC gave us the opportunity to challenge ourselves,” Fiedler said. “The training gave our employees the means to take ownership of their jobs. We have experienced increased productivity and better communication. What the training has really done is inject renewed energy into our operations.”
One aspect of the training program centered on Lean Manufacturing, a production principle where resource expenditures that lack value for the end customer are removed from the process. Mary Kay McVey, Lean operations manager at Uponor North America, reported that Lean best practices were an immediate hit with Uponor employees involved in the coursework, which was delivered by Ann Goebel, the director of Twin Cities Partnerships at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
A machine called a recoiler, which is integral to the production of PEX tubing, required a 45-minute setup period prior to the application of Lean methodologies. Setup time was reduced to six minutes when all unnecessary steps in the process were eliminated.
“Uponor North America as a corporation had never been exposed to the Lean Principle and our employees found the new thought process very enlightening,” McVey said. “Lean instruction gave them the ability to start recognizing different opportunities in our operations.”
Greg Love, Uponor’s maintenance mechanic lead, has worked 15 years in Uponor’s Maintenance department. Love sees a marked difference in the employees as well as the facility since attending the training programs.
“The Lean A3 training we received helped us to think differently when it came to a process,” said Love. “They taught us to use the ‘five whys’ to break something down to its root cause before making a decision or taking action. Using that training has made a big difference in how we operate.”
Love also noted that since the training, his team decided to implement a Continuous Improvement (CI) Board where employees can post ideas for improving processes and efficiencies.
“We review these suggestions every day,” he said. “Because of this input, our factory has become more organized and efficient. This is the best I’ve seen it in fifteen years.”
Rusty Callier, the plant manager at Uponor North America‘s Apple Valley headquarters, has worked with DCTC Customized Training for more than seven years. He found that the latest round of leadership training once again showed the college’s commitment to Uponor’s success.
“DCTC delivers consistently good results,” Callier said. “The instructors are confident and comfortable in what they do. They are very professional and the training is relevant with an emphasis on clarity.”
April Hibben, inventory supervisor at Uponor’s Distribution Center in Lakeville, Minn., has found she uses the tools from the leadership training on a daily basis.
“After learning our individual strengths from the test we took during training, we were able to better use our skills to lead others and work towards greater productivity,” Hibben said. “The leadership training taught us to see different points of views—that listening and communicating one way wasn’t always the best or most effective method for all. It showed us that everyone has different strengths that we can leverage to gain greater success for our team, and ultimately, our company.”
Harold Torrence pointed out that the training and development project at Uponor keyed on three main areas:
- Integrated Management Systems that brought together all employees under a central corporate quality process and control methodology that allows them to compete in a global marketplace.
- Proactive Technical Skills Training that improved the ability of the company’s workforce to produce, sell and distribute a new residential fire suppression system that is responsive to the increased demand generated by government fire safety regulations taking effect in 2011.
- Promotion of a Multiculturally Competent Leadership and Management Team that responds to the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.
“We believe in the power of leadership training,” Torrence said. “By empowering employees throughout a company or organization, you create an inclusive and integrated culture that respects every individual’s unique characteristics while maximizing opportunities to synergize individual strengths into an ‘it’s all about us’ mentality. Leadership training gets everyone on the same page in an exceptionally positive way.”
The director of trade and industry in the college’s CT division, Pat McQuillan notes that DCTC is an established leader in the field of leadership education. “We are constantly searching for the latest and greatest technical and leadership knowledge that’s out there,” McQuillan said. “Working through the grant process, we are very good at delivering that knowledge to companies and businesses through progressive training programs.”
To learn more about Uponor North America, read:
- “Centuries of evolution pay off for manufacturer: Apple Valley-based Uponor NA looks to take advantage of new housing codes” by Jessica Harper in the Dakota County Tribune
Or visit www.uponor-usa.com