Wolverine Coil Spring wins excellence award

November 7, 2009
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Wolverine Coil Spring Co. took home the ACT Employer Excellence Award from a ceremony held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 28. The award recognizes Wolverine as an employer dedicated to enhancing the work force readiness of its employees.

That level of dedication actually began many years ago for WCS and Jay Dunwell, the company’s president.

“It really started with the Manufacturers Council Workforce Development Committee and a request from that group to the local school districts. … This goes back 10 years or so,” said Dunwell.

The council was having difficulty translating a high school diploma into employment skills. Dunwell served on the committee to investigate the issue and came across an ACT tool called WorkKeys — a job skill assessment system — and the National Career Readiness Certificate.

“The next fortunate event was when the WIRED funding came through the West Michigan region,” he said. “With those WIRED funds, we were able to take our little idea that was kind of cooking in Grand Rapids and West Michigan and really pump it up.”

The WorkKeys system tests for skills such as math, reading for information and locating information — reading charts or forms or deciphering information out of a data pool and then making the proper decision. The first area of focus for implementing WorkKeys was at the high school level.

“It was deemed just this past year by the Department of Labor and Economic Growth as the credential for employability skills in our state, along with adding it to the Michigan Merit Exam,” said Dunwell.

“The stars were definitely aligning for the emerging work force for literally tens of thousands of K-12, K-14 students to have this National Career Readiness Certificate as a credential of their employability skills. It is now part of the typical high school junior’s Michigan Merit Exam testing.”

Another WorkKeys target group was dislocated workers, said Dunwell. He said that it is up to employers to start asking for WorkKeys test scores when hiring and also to use it as an assessment tool with current employees.

Dunwell said he believes that the National Career Readiness Certificate can be used as an economic development tool.

“West Michigan is well ahead on a per-capita basis on number of Career Readiness Certificates awarded nationally … which can be an economic development tool,” said Dunwell. “If an employer is looking to come to West Michigan, we can tell them that we have in our talent bank or incumbent work force … X-number of certificates in this community.

“That could be a pretty powerful tool to say there’s some pretty smart heads around here. There are some very capable individuals who are ready to tackle some significant challenges.”

One of the reasons Wolverine won the ACT award was that all of its employees have undergone the assessment, and all of its temporary workers are required to earn the certificate before being hired, as well.

When Dunwell required Wolverine’s employees to take the assessment test, he said many were worried they would be fired or demoted depending on their test scores. Dunwell assured them that was not the purpose; it was to gain a better understanding of his employees’ skill sets and promote them as opportunities came up.

What Dunwell likes to call a “diamond in the rough” story did come out of the assessment: One employee working in the entry level packing area scored very high on the assessment test.

“We said it would be wonderful to move this individual along to something more challenging,” said Dunwell. “Opportunities opened up and he ended up programming some of our most sophisticated CNC spring-making equipment.”

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