Economic Development, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Electronics manufacturer picks up $289K for training

November 26, 2013
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Electronics manufacturer plans 110 jobs, $2.45M expansion
Grand Rapids-based Fistronic is a contract electronics manufacturer, with a specialty in medical devices. Courtesy The Right Place

A contract electronics manufacturer has been awarded a $289,550 state grant to train its workers.

Grand Rapids-based Firstronic has been awarded Skilled Trades Training Funds by the state, which are provided to businesses to train new and existing employees. Funds used to upgrade the skills of existing employees require a commitment by the company to hire additional employees to fill current or future positions.

Firstronic announced hiring plans in September when it was awarded a $300,000 state grant for an expansion.

“Our previous business development grant is based upon hiring 110 employees over a three-year period,” said John Sammut, Firstronic CEO. “We are currently well ahead of that plan. We’ve added 80 employees over the past four months.”

Offsetting costs

The 110 employees will be part of the 150 employees Firstronic expects to provide training for under the skilled-trades grant.

“These funds have not increased our rate of hiring,” Sammut said. “However, it will really help to offset the cost of the training.”

Firstronic said that the majority of the funding will be used to train new employees on topics like electronic processes and industry standards, including skills like hand soldering, IPC specifications and quality standards.

Sammut said the state training funds will “assist in covering the cost of our comprehensive in-house training program, as well as provide educational reimbursement for employees being trained through professional courses” such as at ITT Technical Institute.

Talent vacuum

The electronics manufacturing services industry has been moving production offshore, mainly to China, over the past two decades, according to Michigan Works! Kent & Allegan Counties.

Michigan Works! said that “because nearly all EMS production occurs outside the U.S.," the industry was "faced with a vacuum of trained, qualified talent to draw from.”

Investment in training

Firstronic is committed to employee training and prides itself on moving workers from “inexperienced” to “highly productive” in three to six months.

“This transition helps to make our operation more competitive in the long run,” Sammut said. “The more our employees are trained, the more productive they are, and this more than offsets the increased cost of the wage appreciation.

“We believe that our training program is an integral part of our success in the global marketplace,” Sammut added. “It’s enabling us to take employees with no background in electronics and certify them to a level of an electronic assembly operator/tech within one year — while achieving a higher level of efficiency, quality, etc. that is differentiating Firstronic relative to our competitors — most of which are offshore.”

"Re-shoring"

Firstronic said it has been able to compete and win contracts for work that would have previously been shipped to Asia or Mexico.

“The net result of investing in the training of our employees is that we are not only winning contracts that would otherwise end up offshore, but now we are exporting production at a higher rate than ever — nearly 75 percent of our total production is export driven to Mexico, Korea, China and India,” Sammut said. “This is a major turn of events in our industry. We are leading the charge in the ‘re-shoring’ trend to bring high-tech manufacturing back to the U.S. and Michigan.”

Michigan Works! Kent & Allegan Counties reported that more than $600,000 of Skilled Trades Training Funds have been awarded to date to businesses in Kent and Allegan counties.

The organization is working with other companies to apply for these funds. 

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