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enough employers in that area.” When a new worker is hired, they go through two weeks of classroom instruction and training directly on the production lines before they’re put to work on their own. That training includes not just how to use the equipment and reviewing company policy, but also basic skills such as measurement and fractions. “In the old day, they’d hire somebody, you and I would start, and they’d just throw us out there,” Wendorff said. “We’re doing materials handling and you’d just have to pick it up, it would be very informal. Now, we try to put them through a one-

week orientation in-classroom, and another week on the job.” The highly structured training program, which continues well after the initial two weeks, might feel like overkill at times, but workers say its appreciated. Jorge Martinez, who has worked on the glass breakout lines for one year, eight months, said through an interpreter that its part of what makes Viracon attractive to work for. “In [my] position, not only did I come in just as a breakout person. I’ve also been taught how to operate the machine, use the forklift and the tuggers, so there’s different things and not just one

Monroe Warren of Albert Lea, who is studying industrial maintenance while working for Hormel, swaps out a bit on one of Riverland Community College’s upright mills. “I was told, with a mill and a lathe, you can build pretty much anything in an industrial setting,” he said. “With those two pieces of equipment, you could actually build another mill and lathe.”

specific job. That’s what caught my attention the most, that you’re not just a line worker and they forget about you,” he said. Abdinasir Osman is one of Viracon’s bilingual shift trainers, having started as a production worker five years ago. That structured onboarding process makes a difference, he said. “When I started, we had a oneweek orientation at the moment, and I thought that was very important, compared to my previous job that it was just, meet and greet the supervisor and then go to the line,” he said. “I thought that was very helpful because then you have an idea of what your expectations are and what you’re supposed to be doing.” To expand its applicant pool, Viracon has pushed itself to make these entry-level job duties accessible to a wide range of workers, and in particular to Somali applicants, who have made up a growing share of its workforce for the past 15 years. “That’s well known in the Somali community that we do have that trainer [Osman],” Training Manager Alicia Westendorf said. “I think we’re highly known in the community to accommodate prayer, and offer that educational assistance. Sometimes when we’re interviewing people, they’re coming from Arizona or Alaska, and they’re coming because friends or family have said, hey, you should come work at Viracon, they’re a good place to work.” And while that diverse applicant base presents some challenges — Westendorf noted that most Somali workers are used to | 15

Forge October 2017  
Forge October 2017