Jennifer Weinbrecht, Component Repair Technologies VP compliance Component Repair Technologies

Fast 5: A Lady You Should Meet If Trying To Grow A Workforce

Jennifer Weinbrecht, Component Repair Technologies’ VP compliance, has a proven track record for building a local workforce. See how robotics competitions, becoming a recognized resource for schools, and promoting career pathways pay off.

ARSA’s latest member survey indicates that finding enough qualified MRO professionals is its members’ top concern.  On behalf of Component Repair Technologies, you’ve been very active in helping build a local workforce. Do you think contacting junior high people is the right age at which to start?

I think it is effective to talk to kids about the world of work when they are in elementary school. I’ve been involved in a few projects with 3rd and 4th graders, and I’ve been really impressed by their curiosity and engagement. Summer camps also are great for elementary kids.

As kids grow up, they become more worried than younger kids about being cool in front of their friends, so it takes a little more work to make sure the involvement is appealing. However, all kids benefit from hands-on activities, shop tours, and in-depth hands-on projects that have real results. We need to appeal to all kids, not just the ones who already have decided they want to go into a technical field. For example, some local schools have taken their audio/visual class into local companies to make films about jobs, which are then posted on the internet. Other kids have gotten involved in “robobot” competitions.

High school kids are ready for part-time jobs, internships, involvement in companies for their senior projects, career fairs, science fairs and skills competitions. Some older high school kids realize it’s crunch time.

You’ve worked with the Alliance For Working Together Foundation. What is it and how does it help promote careers in Ohio?

AWT is an organization with a mission of promoting successful careers in manufacturing. AWT was started by local manufacturing companies in Lake County, Ohio. CRT joined AWT because we use many of the same skills required by manufacturers. Strength in numbers has allowed us to affect technical education at the local vocational school, community college, and local public and private K-12 schools.

We feel the shortage of technician-level workers is partly due to an image problem. So some of our mission involves getting the message out that these are important, high-paying jobs with great benefits.

Some of our accomplishments include:

* We have become a recognized resource when educators and policy-makers want information from business about workforce development initiatives. We have made a real impact in the community, raising local awareness of our hiring needs for today and the future.

* Through our partnerships with local schools we have helped schools acquire grants to add STEM instructors, facilities, and educational programs.

* We sponsor shop tours for students and educators.

* We helped the local community college develop a two-year Advanced Manufacturing degree that was approved by the Ohio Board of Regents.

* We provide scholarships for STEM programs and for machinist students’ NIMS certifications.

* We sponsor a summer camp for 6th graders to learn about design and manufacture.

Our signature event is the annual Robobot competition where local schools pair with manufacturers throughout the school year to design and make a fighting remote-controlled “robobot.” We follow National Robotic League (NRL) rules. These battle-ready bots face off in a competition each year in April where bots destroy each other in the ring. The local school with the bot left standing wins the grand prize at the end of the day. There are also prizes for categories like best design, best documentation and sportsmanship.

It is necessary to suspend the urge to see an immediate payoff--which would be an immediate hire--when involved in these kinds of projects. We have to trust that rising tides will lift all boats as we change the perception of technical and hands-on jobs in our community. However, these activities do generate brand recognition for our individual companies as well as for the foundation. We are making a real difference in our community through increased awareness of these excellent job opportunities.

What are the benefits of the robotics competition?

The benefits are huge. First, you get kids and teachers into their sponsor companies where they work alongside skilled tradespeople and engineers. Myths about hands-on work being boring, dirty and dangerous are destroyed. The kids learn about design, purchasing materials and bringing a project to completion. While only a few kids from a school are on the team, the word gets around the school fast, and many friends and family members show up on competition day.

I’ve had high school kids strike up excited conversations with me around town when they see my company logo on my shirt, starting with “you sponsor a robot team!” and ending with a conversation about career goals. This program has helped many kids cement their previously fuzzy career plans: “I’ve decided I’m going into (engineering or machining, or welding).” We’ve seen local communities demand STEM programs, and the schools have responded. 

You’ve been a proponent for creating “career readiness” and career pathways for people. How do you communicate these and have you seen benefits since doing so?

Career pathways are used to communicate to students, parents and educators that there are many paths to achieve a successful career. You don’t have to go to college right out of high school, put off working, and go into debt. You can start in an entry-level job out of high school with a good company that offers a tuition benefit, and you can acquire valuable job skills right away. All of AWT’s member companies pay for employee job-related education. Employees can go to school part-time while working full-time and achieve that engineering or business degree, if that is their goal. It may take longer, but they won’t have college debt and they will be well on their way in a successful career.

As the VP compliance, what is the career path for compliance?

All MRO careers require personal passion for details, and a combination of education and experience. It takes quite a bit of exposure to the industry and the particular business you work for to successfully develop internal systems and procedures to support domestic and international regulatory requirements, customer requirements, and industry standards like AS9100. Prerequisites include great reading comprehension and technical writing skills, combined with an ability to interpret technical information and apply it in a complex business

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