Manufacturing Company Becomes Model for Fighting Long-Term Unemployment

October 17, 2014

Tackling the issue of long-term unemployment is currently on the nation’s mind. The White House awarded almost $170 million earlier this week in “Ready to Work Partnership” grants that are designed to prepare long-term unemployed individuals for attaining jobs. Where the Jobs Are, part one of a four-part series by USA Today, illuminates the importance of widening the career pipeline in order to fill the significant and growing demand for middle-skill workers.

At the forefront of the national movement to take on long-term unemployment is Business Leaders United (BLU) Executive Committee member Erick Ajax, a model employer for recognizing America’s untapped talent pool. Erick recently participated in a small roundtable conversation with Vice President Biden and U.S. Labor Secretary Perez to discuss ways U.S. companies can support the hiring of long-term unemployed individuals.

Erick is co-owner of E.J. Ajax, a precision manufacturing company located near Minneapolis. Since January 2014, 76% of the new hires at E.J. Ajax were previously long-term under- or unemployed. From single parents, returning veterans, youth offenders and first-generation immigrants, success stories of E.J. Ajax’s hiring practices have captured the interest of the national media. USA Today featured E.J. Ajax alongside Vice President Biden and Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs; in the video, Erick tells the reporter that the global competition isn’t what keeps him up at night.

“I know we can go toe-to-toe with any company in the world. But having people that have the right skill set…that wakes me up at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

For Erick, finding skilled workers is a top priority, which was why he and several of his competitors approached Anoka Technical College five years ago to create a training program. The coalition of employers was able to procure nearly $1 million in donations to launch the Precision Sheet Metal Academy. Also featured on USA Today is E.J. Ajax employee Emily Cramble, a single mom who entered their apprenticeship program and is now earning twice what she made at the job she lost in 2008.

"If we go to one of those schools and say we need a program to train the five new people we hired, they're going to laugh at us 'cause there's no way they can develop a program, buy the equipment, hire instructors, get the floor space for five people," Ajax told USA Today. "But if we get 10 companies and we're training 50 to 100 per year, that's a sustainable model."

To date, the program has put over 300 people to work and boasts a 98% employment rate.

Through their need for skilled employees, E.J. Ajax also became involved with M-POWERED and HIRED, career pathways programs that help returning veterans, first-generation immigrants and youth offenders gain credentials and apprenticeships. Programs like these don’t just meet the needs of employers, but clearly the needs of workers as well. You can learn about past M-POWERED trainees Davie Dchaenzer, a former youth offender, and Jose Chavarria, a former Marine—both of whom are now E.J. Ajax employees.

Photo Credit: USA Today