Liston Manufacturing is like a lot of small manufacturers: struggling to find new workers to hire, while keeping up with customers’ orders.
The North Tonawanda company has found a way to alleviate some of its backlog. It is using contract manufacturing provided by Northland Manufacturing, a machine shop located within the Northland Workforce Training Center.
“Our senior workforce is dwindling, and the guys and girls that have been doing this for 30 years, they’re getting ready to retire and ready to move on to the next part of their life,” said Rob Senecal, Liston’s outside sales manager . “Getting the younger crowd to want to do this type of work has been a struggle.”
Liston, a family-owned business with about 50 employees, has made bearings and seals for the compressor industry for over 60 years. The company not only uses Northland Manufacturing to handle some early-stage processes for its orders, it has also hired two employees from the Northland program.
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Northland Manufacturing has ambitions to grow to $1.2 million in annual revenues, from the current $110,000 a year, and to employ 20 people. Northland officials say the job shop boosts the region’s manufacturing sector in multiple ways:
• Northland Manufacturing can free up local manufacturers to focus on more-advanced work.
“They don’t have the full productivity capabilities right now because of the workforce challenges,” said Stephen Tucker, the workforce training center’s president and CEO. “So they can outsource some of the less technically intensive jobs to us to perform and then we ship the parts back.”
• Students from the Northland Workforce Training Center who work at the job shop earn $15 an hour and develop skills to help them get hired elsewhere, perhaps at client companies.
“They’re learning everything that a job shop needs to teach them, but they’re learning that before they get to the job shop,” said Jon Sieminski, the training center’s director of manufacturing operations. “So it makes the upskilling of them when they get hired much shorter. A normal upskill is like six months to a year to get somebody up to full productivity. After they go through a program like this, it’s like one to six months.” “
• The revenues generated from the contract manufacturing operations support the nonprofit training center’s finances.
“With a $4.8 million annual budget, and the majority of that budget going directly to support students, we need to figure out ways to continue the wraparound services, job placement assistance, the assistance with transportation that we provide to our students,” Tucker said .
Northland Manufacturing also provides a hands-on opportunity for students like Oswald Love.
“It’s great experience,” said Love, who is a second-year student. “From knowing nothing to creating something that actually functions and works that is going to help the industry, the manufacturing – it’s overwhelming to be honest.”
M&T Bank helped Northland Manufacturing get started in 2020 with a $125,000 grant. Since then, Northland Manufacturing has served 16 clients, some of them on a recurring basis, Sieminski said.
Since the training center launched in 2018, it has enrolled over 700 students, with a 65% program completion rate and an 88% job placement rate, Tucker said.