Tackling the work force issue

PIR participants stand on their finished products.

Just as the title of the Thursday PIR day indicated, the day spent at Spika Design and Manufacturing on Oct. 20 was just that – the most non-boring PIR day. From the start of the day when Bekhi Spika, the director of marketing, spoke about Spika Design and Manufacturing’s need for employees to actually learning the process of putting a step stool together under the direction of Tom Spika, founder and CEO, it was a hopping and educational day. Most of the attendees were teachers and administrators who used the day to learn more about manufacturing and a work ethic while many of their counterparts were attending conferences throughout the rest of the state.

“Spika needs employees who can read a tape measure and show up to work on time,” Bekhi Spika said to welcome the participants to the PIR day. “We need entry-level workers who have soft skills and can problem solve.”

Bekhi talked about the need for teachers to integrate more soft-skill activities into the regular classroom because a strong work force is important to the manufacturing industry.

The main speaker of the day was Jim Weber of Helena Capital High School. 

“The work ethic is the biggest issue facing the work force,” said Weber when he began his presentation. “The public schools can no longer ignore this lack of a work ethic in students.”

Weber has integrated into his classrooms on welding and machining a series of written projects dealing with developing a work ethic.

“Each Monday I introduce a work ethic topic to my students,” said Weber. “On Friday, the students turn in written answers to the questions I have asked. We then have a discussion on the work ethic problem. My curriculum is basically a work in progress, but I am starting to see results.

“We need to quit devaluing work to our kids,” added Weber. “We need to show them work is a good thing and it is a privilege to go to work.”

There was a great deal of discussion about why and how to teach students a work ethic. 



employees share success stories

Four young manufacturing employees, two from Spika and two from HCR, shared their experiences working.

Rex Martin, a 2011 graduate of Fergus High School, learned underwater welding at a school in Florida following graduation of FHS. Martin shared how he always enjoyed welding and knew exactly that was what he wanted to do following graduation. After his schooling was complete, Martin found a job right away. He worked as an underwater welder along the East coast of the United States until he felt a pull to come back to Montana to work. He missed the hunting and fishing. Now Martin is regarded as one of the best welders at Spika. Martin credits his work ethic to his parents.

Anji Heinrichs is another Spika employee. She is a graduate of Billings Senior but spent part of her high school years attending at the career center in Billings where she learned about construction. Heinrichs admitted coming to work at Spika with very few skills, but she was a hard worker and moved up the ladder at Spika.

“I was always wanting to learn more and more,” Heinrichs said. “Bill Berg gave me the training, and I consider him my mentor.” 

Heinrichs was the first female on the floor at Spika and is also the first woman foreman. 

Richard Retan and Tyler Benson are also Fergus graduates and work at HCR. 

Retan said work is very important to him, and a work ethic is valuable. Retan has been able to work his way up at HCR and now gets to travel around the world often, helping put in the airway doors HCR is known for.

Benson admitted to not taking any shop classes while attending FHS. He explained he wanted to learn marketing so he could go into business. Benson added working at HCR is important to him.

“Customer satisfaction is important at HCR,” said Benson, “You have to have a lot of drive to work there and sometimes there is a lot of repetition, but it gets better. If you are willing to stick it out, you will get promoted in the industry.”


RevUp Montana – learning through doing

Kelsey Kojetin of REVUP Montana talked to the teachers and administrators about how “old ways won’t open new doors.” Kojetin talked about the importance of work-based learning.

“There is a wide spectrum of learning on the job,” said Kojetin. “That includes job shadowing, internships, post-employment training, pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships.”

Kojetin is working with a $25 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to enhance Montana’s manufacturing and energy workforce, by connecting the 13 two-year colleges with businesses and job service offices. The colleges need to offer industry recognized credentials. 

“Right now, RevUp students earn $6,000 more per year than a student graduate from a four-year college,” Kojetin added.


Step stool building

The final part of the Thursday PIR day was a hands-on experience under the direction of Tom Spika. The teachers and administrators learned about manufacturing first hand by building step stools. The activity began with Spika assigning jobs to his “work force.”

The jobs included such things as smoothing out the edges of the stool, to putting the stool together with nuts and bolts and passing a safety inspection.

Although every participant ended up with a step stool of their own, probably the most important lesson learned from this activity was working as a team. If there was a bottle- neck in one part of the production, Spika urged others to help alleviate that bottle-neck. One of the most important economic lessons that can be learned about manufacturing is that time is money, he said. Having employees waiting around is not economically sound. 

Spika Design and Manufacturing is planning for another one of these PIR days next year, and it well be a day well spent. 



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