Henderson Products Inc — A workforce development success story

Guest editorial
Chris Rees, Plant Manager, Henderson Products Inc.

Kevin Schueller, Continuous Improvement Engineering Manager, Henderson Products Inc.

This article was published in the April 2018 edition of NTEA News.

Recruitment and retention of qualified candidates are vital components of business, and working with local schools is one way to develop the next generation of employees. Henderson Products Inc. (Manchester, Iowa), an NTEA member since 1988, has gone to great lengths to engage area educational institutions and support the professional growth of students. Chris Rees, plant manager, and Kevin Schueller, continuous improvement engineering manager — both on the Henderson Products team — have participated in these efforts and seen firsthand how getting involved in your local school system can produce a more advanced workforce. To continue support of NTEA’s workforce development efforts and the industry, Henderson Products offered to share recent activities with NTEA News readers.

Shayne Fessler, a West Delaware High School graduate, participated in Henderson’s workforce development welding classes.

How does Henderson Products engage local schools to develop the next generation of employees?
The local school system — West Delaware Community Schools and Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) — is a vital component to developing our future workers. It all starts with workplace education and the realities of working in an industrial career. Henderson Products focuses on the local schools in many areas, such as on-site tours at our plant and educational sessions at the school for teachers, students and parents. We offer support in the classroom through engineering, continuous improvement and welding resources. In addition, we work closely with the teachers to ensure appropriate, real-world skills are being learned in the classroom. The message to students, parents and teachers alike begins with educating, or in some cases re-educating, them on the immense benefits a skilled trade career can bring to an individual. We spend just as much time discussing the work environment, personal development and career growth opportunities as we do on the technical roles themselves.

How long have these relationships existed?
Henderson Products and West Delaware Community Schools have worked together for more than two decades, encouraging students to learn and understand the career opportunities available to them right in their own hometown. Over the last six to seven years, our connection with West Delaware High School, specifically, has truly flourished, becoming a partnership that provides targeted learning and training — both at Henderson Products and the school. Our engineers, leaders and shop floor associates have spent countless hours in classrooms and learning labs, conducting interactive talks and demonstrations with students to explain what we look for in terms of technical skills (such as math, blueprint reading, and written and verbal communication) and interpersonal skills (such as teamwork, attitude and personal commitment). We offer the same learning for students on-site at Henderson Products — through mentorship, internships and job shadowing.

What specific efforts has your team taken to educate/involve students?
We’ve encouraged students to get familiar with manufacturing by giving them opportunities to shadow our staff on the job, participate in plant tours and attend welding classes. In addition, we hire students from West Delaware Community Schools during summer vacation to provide part-time assistance. Henderson Products donates raw materials and welding supplies to support the student learning experience both in the classroom and at our own facility. Members of our team spend time mentoring the students who come through our program, taking a personal interest in their success. Promoting education through hands-on and classroom training creates a solid base for students to enter the workforce.

How do you envision your company’s workforce development efforts changing in the future?
The coming years will continue to bring workforce challenges. To help us ensure a strong future workforce, we will continue to partner with West Delaware Community Schools and NICC to increase skillsets. We feel that partnership with the schools and encouraging a manufacturing-focused educational system are vital to develop more educated and engaged industry professionals. 

Have you seen a measurable benefit from this outreach?
Henderson Products has greatly benefited from the relationship with the local school system. Of the approximately 100 employees we have welding in Manchester, Iowa, 30 percent have come right from West Delaware Community Schools or NICC. Getting involved in educating our local workforce has had an immediate and lasting influence on our organization.

How have NTEA resources assisted your workforce development activity?
To begin, we are an NTEA Member Verification Program (MVP) member. This program requires us to offer continuing education and training to our employees in many areas of the business, and this training must be documented throughout the year. Also, multiple individuals within our organization have taken NTEA’s Truck Equipment 101 — an introductory course (made up of 15 online modules) that offers an industry overview, insight into systems that make up a truck, and basic regulatory requirements applicable to U.S. and Canadian markets.

In addition, we access ntea.com for truck data, federal lighting regulations and hydraulic fundamentals — to name a few. It’s one of the first research points we use. 

Henderson Products is led by Jon Sievert — third vice president and treasurer on NTEA’s Executive Committee. Developing leadership in the commercial vehicle industry is an ongoing commitment for NTEA. The Association’s workforce development taskforce has made great strides in recent years, identifying current challenges and trends and providing key resources to support industry companies. Visit ntea.com/workforcedevelopment to browse the many workforce development options and pinpoint employee-specific training opportunities. NTEA will continue to keep you informed as we add new resources to the mix.

Share your workforce development best practices — email suzie@ntea.com. Visit ntea.com/workforcevelopment for more opportunities.