How a Best Plant Prepares its Future Workforce

By: Steve Minter

“If you don’t build it, you’re not going to have it.”

Patrick Regan, product director at Pratt &Whitney’s North Berwick, Maine plant, isn’t talking about a specialized tool or an exotic component for one of the jet engines that Pratt produces. He’s referencing a necessity for every U.S. manufacturer – developing a robust workforce with the skills necessary to manufacture products in the 21st Century.

The need is particularly pressing at the North Berwick plant, a 2015 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner. The plant, which started up in 1979, is facing the prospect not only of baby boomer employees retiring but also the demands of a huge modernization and expansion project aimed at increased production of components and modules for new commercial and military jet engines. In 2015, the plant hired 186 employees, bringing its total workforce to more than 1,400. The local workforce, Regan explains, simply won’t provide the numbers of skilled employees needed without a concerted effort by the plant to attract and train new manufacturing workers.

“We’re in a huge investment cycle right now,” says Michael Papp, the general manager. “Spending the money wisely is important.” The plant is expected to spend a total of $150 million on physical plant improvements and new processes and equipment that will make the plant more productive and position it for the future. But that won’t happen just by putting in new machinery, he emphasizes.

“Pat and his guys are out there making sure we get the equipment in. That’s important but you can put equipment anywhere in the world,” Papp says. “The difficulty is getting the people in with the skill set that makes you really competitive.”

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