Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Careers in manufacturing

Students learn about jobs in advanced manufacturing
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Apr 26, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Employees of Agri-Industrial Plastics, from left, Marcus Six, Lasandra Crew, Jeff Guttry and Jason Davis participate in a forum Tuesday at the business to educate students and parents about career opportunities in manufacturing. Also pictured is Amy Jones, director of business development.

Agri-Industrial Plastics and Elevate Advanced Manufacturing partnered to host an event Tuesday for students and parents about career opportunities in manufacturing.

About 40 people, many of them in high school or even younger, attended the event. The event included hearing from Agri-Industrial Plastics representatives and touring the facility.

Company president Lori Schaefer-Weaton began the evening by talking about her company and how it has grown in the past 40 years. It was founded by her father, Dick Smith, with one used machine and now has 27 blow molding machines in a 340,000-square-foot facility with 200 employees.


Industry challenges

Schaefer-Weaton spoke about challenges facing advanced manufacturing. She noted that, while the U.S. public supports manufacturing, they are less willing to encourage their children to work in it. Schaefer-Weaton said this is ironic given that the average advanced manufacturing worker makes about $77,000 plus benefits per year compared to about $60,000 in other industries.

“We employ 14 percent of the workforce in the state, which is even more than agriculture,” she said.

Iowa’s factories have added 6,900 jobs since 2010, a gain of 3.4 percent. And there are still jobs left to add.

“Companies are turning down [orders] because of an inadequate workforce,” Schaefer-Weaton said, adding that the state is short about 6,700 workers in advanced manufacturing.

She said groups such as Elevate Advanced Manufacturing, Iowa Workforce Development and Indian Hills Community College are coordinating to educate school children about these opportunities and to create internships for them after high school.

“It’s not going to fix the problem overnight, but these programs are gaining traction,” Schaefer-Weaton said.



A panel of four Agri-Industrial employees, all alumni of Fairfield High School, spoke about their background and what led them to a career in manufacturing. Jason Davis, who graduated from FHS in 2011, said he went to Kirkwood Community College convinced that he would go on to get a bachelor’s degree. A friend of his worked for Agri-Industrial Plastics, and encouraged him to apply for an opening with the company before he went to college.

Davis began working in an entry-level job in customer service. Later, a job opened in supply management, and he got that, too. Now he manages more than 200 suppliers, and has worked at the company for five years.

Jeff Guttry, another alumnus from the class of ‘11, said he went to Coe College to wrestle and study accounting. He learned two things there, that wrestling wasn’t going to pay the bills and that accounting was not for him. He later attended Kirkwood Community College where he studied business management.

Upon his return to Fairfield, Guttry knew he wanted to work for Agri-Industrial Plastics. He called a temp agency, and the agency found him a position on the production floor. After working there 1.5 years, he saw a customer service position open. He worked there for two years before moving this year into his current role in the engineering department.

“The team is one of my favorite things about working here,” he said. “It’s key to get along with your co-workers, because you spend more time with them than with your family.”

Lasandra Crew graduated from FHS in 2003, and has spent 12 years at Agri, most of her adult life. She is the customer service supervisor, a position she loves because she still has the same day-to-day interactions with customers but can also “boss people around.”

Marcus Six, an ‘07 grad, enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard after graduation. He started at Agri on the production floor, where he spent 3.5 years. A maintenance position came open, and he jumped at the chance.

“I’ve always liked tearing stuff apart and rebuilding it,” he said.

Six has worked in maintenance for five years.



A member of the audience asked the panel how they handle problems that arise on a daily basis. Davis found that if he’s organized, he doesn’t have many problems.

“Problems arise when you try to take shortcuts,” he said. “We have a production meeting every morning at 9 a.m. If there is a problem, everyone is aware of it by then.”

Someone asked what their favorite part of the job was. Crew said she loves to get to know the customers and her co-workers on the floor.

“This is my home away from home,” she said. “I love it because no day is the same.”

She acknowledged that some customers can be harder to deal with than others, and said the key is to maintain a positive attitude.

Davis chimed in, “I’ve learned you have to kill them with kindness. It’s super hard, but it works on the difficult customers.”

Schaefer-Weaton said having a good attitude is what allows an employee to be promoted from within the company. Current employees are always given first crack at job openings.

Six said he also enjoys the variety in the job, knowing when he comes to work that he could be fixing a brand-new machine or one that’s 40 years old.

Davis advised the students to taste the flavor of various careers until they find their niche.

“I had no clue in high school that I would be in supply chain management at age 26,” he said. “I thought I’d be a financial advisor. I took an economics class in college, and I told my advisor that was not for me.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Joseph Peiffer | May 04, 2018 11:52
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