Community - Mar 18, 2021
Waupaca celebrates graduates from Ivy Tech programDariush Shafa | Perry County News
Waupaca celebrates graduates from Ivy Tech program
TELL CITY – Waupaca Foundry 5 has made a point to celebrate employee accomplishments, both with those who are up and coming via a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College and those who have achieved academically previously.
In late February, Waupaca celebrated National Engineers Week, which places a focus on a wide array of skillsets, including metallurgy, electrical and mechanical engineering, tooling and environmental engineering, and even process engineering, which focuses on improving efficiency and methods of operation.
“Our manufacturing process is always evolving and we constantly reinvest in technology and automation to run cleaner, safer, and more efficient plants,” said Waupaca Foundry CEO Mike Nikolai in a media release on Feb. 18. “However, our number one asset is our employees and we’ll continue to invest in their training and development.”
In the case of Waupaca Foundry in Tell City, engineers are the ones heading up the plant’s leadership team. Plant Manager Cody Rhodes-Dawson holds a degree in metallurgical engineering. Assistant Plant Manager Ross Hendershot holds a degree in mechanical engineering. All told, the Tell City foundry boasts about 20 engineers across the various fields mentioned above.
Gary Greubel, human resources manager for the plant, said that engineering wages are particularly competitive.
“We’re bringing them in at $60,000 plus (per year), depending on their experience and if they have a specific field to the plant,” Greubel said. “That could be coming right out of college [depending on area of expertise, skill set and other factors].”
The Tell City plant opened in 1997 and Greubel noted that a pair of the engineers who currently work at the plant were working at that facility before it even opened.
“Two of our engineers were here to build the facility, so we have a huge knowledge base on how the facility was built,” Greubel said. ‘It is pretty neat having two of them here that literally built the building”
Greubel added Waupaca has also made it a point to try to foster the engineers of the future by partnering with Ivy Tech, high schools and even elementary schools. Some of those programs help pave the way for students to pursue advanced degrees down the road.
“We are involved here locally with STEM, very much so, even at the elementary school, now that they’re STEM-certified,” Greubel said, referring to the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. “There’s local college STEM challenges that we get involved with.”
Greubel added that even if those engineering-oriented students don’t end up at Waupaca, there’s a good chance they’ll still stay in the community and lend their abilities at other industrial facilities.
“That is a field needed within the industry, not just for us, but for ATTC, Webb [Wheel], Mulzer [Crushed Stone], etc.,” Greubel said. “Whenever the high school students come to us to do internships, if we can onboard them, that’s awesome. If we can keep them in the area, even if it’s not with us, that’s the goal.”
Degrees encouraged but not required
Greubel said even for those who don’t intend to pursue a college degree – graduate or otherwise – Waupaca is still hiring.
“The bread and butter that really drives us is floor employees,” Greubel said.
And they’re hiring hand over fist.
“We know we’re going to have to onboard more employees here in April, if not sooner,” Greubel said. “We definitely need to increase staff, mainly in the regular boundary floor production.”
That means dozens of potential jobs in a sector known to pay well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual salary over a five-year period from 2015-2019 in Perry County was $25,707. According to national salary comparison and research website Payscale.com, the average salary at the Tell City Waupaca plant is around $16.95 per hour, or about $34,917 per year.
Greubel said right now, he expects the plant to hire dozens of workers in the coming few months.
“We’re looking to onboard maybe 50 coming into October. Our goal would be around 950 employees [total for the plant] or so,” Greubel said. “It’s one of our higher numbers. I’ve been in this position a little over five years and the highest number I’ve ever seen is 998. We still have contractors through the local temp agencies assisting us as well.”
Including workers through staffing agencies, the plant could set a new record for total employment.
“When it’s all said and done with, we could be well over 1,000 employees if things continue as they are,” Greubel said. “And we’re not seeing why it would change.”