McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing, located in Dodge Center, produces refuse collection and cement mixer trucks. Like many manufacturers, the company has worked for years to attract the welders it needs to get its products out the door in a timely manner.

But an innovative new training program is helping to solve the problem, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin:

In the last year, [McNeilus] has produced 55 trained welders, thanks to an in-house training program created in partnership between McNeilus, higher education and the state. Six more are waiting in the wings to begin training….

“We can take people who’ve never welded before, and after four weeks, they can,” Chad Kleist, a senior human resource manager for McNeilus, said.

Since October, McNeilus has been rotating four-week training programs at its Dodge Center facility made up of six to ten students each. Trainees are both McNeilus employees looking to “upscale” their jobs and external candidates looking to get a foot in the door.

Kleist said the program is unique in that weld trainees are considered McNeilus employees from the first day of training. They make 95 percent of a welder’s base rate, which is $17 dollars an hour.

Many employers would balk at paying trainees for four weeks of training, “where they don’t even touch product,” says Kleist. But in McNeilus’ view, it’s a long-term investment:

Even if a trainee decides that welding is not for him or her—and some people do—they often return to their old jobs better employees for understanding other facets of McNeilus’ production process.

The new training program is taught by instructors from Riverland Community College and underwritten by a $150,000 grant from the state. Those involved say the program can help lift workers into the middle class, because it can generate promotions and better pay.

One reason welding jobs have been tough to fill is perceptual, according to Kleist:

“I would say there’s a few perceptions. It’s dirty. It doesn’t pay well, and it’s not stable. All those are false,” Kleist said.

The welder program is helping change those perceptions, he said.

“It’s not just here. It’s not just Southeast Minnesota. We’re bringing them from everywhere to go through this program, because they want to be part of something special,” Kleist said.


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