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For This CNC Machine Shop, Growth is Both Wonderful and Hard

JD Machine’s sales have nearly doubled since 2013 when it was a Top Shops winner. Developing a workforce to support that growth is a challenge the shop is meeting head-on.
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The title of this column is something Matt Wardle, president and CEO of JD Machine, said to me during a recent chat to reconnect. The Ogden, Utah, contract shop was a Top Shops Honors Program winner in 2013. Since then, its annual sales have nearly doubled. In fact, the shop has averaged 18% annual sales growth since his father, J. Don, started the business in 1980.

Mr. Wardle points to JD Machine’s production system, quality management system, enterprise resource planning system, continuous improvement initiatives and machine operator accountability concept (determining if hourly scheduled production numbers are being met) as helping both spur and manage that growth. The shop currently employs 205 people compared to 135 in 2013. Although it maintains a low turnover rate, it faces the same challenge as other shops in recruiting potential new hires, which is exacerbated by its continued growth. Mr. Wardle says this is especially problematic in Northern Utah because it is a strong manufacturing hub with some big players. “Competition for shopfloor talent is high. As a result, manufacturing employers have to take it upon ourselves to address this problem,” he notes.

jd machine

JD Machine launched its DOL approved apprenticeship program in 1999. The program features 572 hours of class work in area technical colleges and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training at the shop.

There are numerous ways JD Machine is doing that. For example, the shop established its Department of Labor (DOL) approved apprenticeship program for CNC machinists and welders in 1999. The four-year program was tailored to develop the specific talents employees need to succeed at JD Machine. It combines 576 hours of classroom training at nearby Ogden-Weber Technical College or Davis Technical College with 8,000 hours of on-the-job training at the shop, covering concepts such as problem solving, quality systems, lean manufacturing and CNC programming. Those who complete the program receive a nationally recognized journeyman’s certificate issued by the DOL.

The shop is also active in the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). In fact, Mr. Wardle started the association’s Northern Utah chapter in 2010. “Shops that work together through chapters like ours are often more likely to succeed at efforts such as workforce development than they otherwise might on their own,” Mr. Wardle says. In fact, four years ago, the chapter received a grant from the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership to launch machineutah.org, a campaign to attract and recruit machinist apprentices. This effort, which had the support of 10 area manufacturing companies, including JD Machine, drew hundreds of applicants resulting in the hiring of dozens of new apprentices.

This chapter supports the SkillsUSA Utah association as well, and will help judge the upcoming machining competition at Ogden-Weber Technical College in March. (Mr. Wardle currently is on that school’s board of directors and has been on its machinist advisory board for nearly two decades.) It also formed the Rocky Mountain Robotics league as part of the NTMA’s National Robotics League program. JD Machine and other chapter members open their shops to teams of students and assisting them in building competition battling robots of their own design.

jd machine

The shop frequently presents at career and technical education (CTE) classes and exhibits at high school career days and STEM fairs.

JD Machine works to directly connect with local students in various ways, too. It frequently presents at career and technical education (CTE) classes and exhibits at high school career days and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fairs. “We’re also big on open houses,” Mr. Wardle explains, “and have hosted field trips to our shop for a number of years. This gives young people a better sense as to what modern manufacturing is all about and the career opportunities it offers.” (It has invited principals and administrators from local high schools to lunch-and-learns for the same reasons.) Each October, JD Machine also opens its doors for Manufacturing Month and does the same in the spring (when high school seniors are preparing to graduate) for what it calls its Manufacturing Career Exploration night. “In fact, our current quality manager got to know us by taking a tour while in high school,” Mr. Wardle says.

All of this takes effort, but there’s no way around it.
— Matt Wardle

Finally, it keeps its name in front of both its local and online communities. One area high school’s scoreboard features a JD Machine logo, and the shop supports various school sports and recreational programs in part to increase name recognition. But beyond that, it strives to give back to the Northern Utah area and support those in need. For instance, it performs quarterly community service activities and has assisted a number of local organizations and causes.

Social media has been helpful in branding the shop, too. “We’ve found this to be a great vehicle to reach young people,” Mr. Wardle says. His daughter, Madisen Dahl, uses social media as part of her position as the company’s marketing and recruiting specialist. Facebook has worked well in terms of recruiting, while Twitter and LinkedIn helps the shop stay connected with its customers.

“No doubt, all of this takes effort,” Mr. Wardle admits, “but there’s no way around it. Unless employers put in the work themselves, nothing will change.”