By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Developing workers of the future

Climax invests an average of $3,400 in each of its paid internship positions. The exact amount is determined by how long the internship runs.

Last year, the company hosted 16 interns in all — an investment of $54,400. It aimed for a return on investment of $163,200, but according to its calculations, it actually reaped an ROI of $289,515.

And that’s over and above the main aim, which is to instill good work habits, dispel negative stereotypes about manufacturing environments and ease the te often-difficult school-to-work transition.

Joni George, chief cultural officer at Climax, credits the program’s existence to CEO Geoff Gilmore, who joined the company in 1999. She said it grew out of his vision statement for the company, which reads, “We engage hearts and minds, creating extraordinary relationships and extraordinary innovations which re-imagine the industrial world’s portable industrial machining & welding systems to profitably benefit society.”

“This company is built on innovation,” George said. “To advance, we have to hire extraordinary people. We spend a lot of time figuring out what really matters to people so we can connect their passion to our vision.”

Climax was established in 1966. In the last few years, it has really taken off, realizing sales growth of almost 500 percent.

The internship program reflects a company focus on learning,” George said.

“We’re very curious learners, and we experiment a lot, but we also take the time to reflect,” she said.

Originally, the company’s key aim with its high school internship program was resetting the old stereotype that students had about careers in manufacturing. Along the way, officials decided they needed to not only involve students in that, but also parents, teachers and counselors.

George said, “We have one common goal — how we educate the students to be successful in the workforce. Business needs to come together with the schools and create an environment to be successful.”

She had an internship during her high school years herself, she said, so knows the impact it can have.

“They are doing jobs that have great ROI,” George said. In fact, Climax expects each student to return three times the investment that the company makes on them, a figure that has been dramatically exceeded for the past two years.

A mentor is assigned to each intern.

The interns are responsible for tracking their own ROI, making them partners in the process. Much is calculated through the wage disparity between interns and full-time workers at $17.50 an hour. To that, the company adds increased product sales, avoidance of outsourcing and assembly time savings.

George said that interns have brought “a breath of fresh air” into the company. “They’re so technically savvy,” she said.

She said the program has proven such a two-way success, “It’s not unusual for us to have 80 applications.” And she’s ready to spread the word to other companies, both in Oregon and elsewhere.

Each intern’s commitment includes participation in a series of classes, taught on the Climax campus by members of the business community. It also includes an introduction to the principals of the LEAN manufacturing process, to which Climax subscribes, and completion of a community service project.

One year, a food drive with a 500-pound goal ended up collecting 12,500 pounds of food for the local FISH food pantry.

The following year, the goal was set at 20,000 pounds initially, then raised to 30,000 pounds. But the interns ended up more than doubling that figure.

“They can talk about their work and the impact on the community,” George said. “We want our students to be head and shoulders above anybody else when they interview.”

“These kids just blossom in here,” she said. “They walk out of here a completely different person.”

She said one of them even got to travel abroad for the company.

George said Climax also hosts tours for students in grades three and up. At the end of that day, students are sent home with a note to the parents suggesting topics they might want to explore with their children as a result of the experience.

One of the goals is to create a passionate ambassador with everyone that walks in the door — no matter what the age. “It’s all about what we do to get that workforce of the future,” George said.

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