Manufacturing is on its way back led by the automotive industry. However, the case has also been made that manufacturing isn’t ready for the revival, especially the suppliers who are chained up to the original equipment manufacturers, like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

Are enough new warriors being recruited to this fight? Here’s the story of a real warrior, a man who saw actual combat.

When I met Bryan Heath he was facing a new and in some ways a more difficult challenge.

Bryan survived Marine Corps boot camp and three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, but never realized how tough it would be to find a job in the civilian world.

After knocking his head against the employment wall with job after job that went nowhere, Heath was doing his internship on the shop floor at Commercial Tool & Die Inc. (CTD) when I met him near Grand Rapids, Mich.

He was also taking classes across the street at Expert Tech LLC, a sister company of CTD, part of the Commercial Tool Group family of companies. Expert Tech was set up to find that missing generation who for one reason or another has decided that factory life is not for them.

“Learning this trade is something I will be able to use for the rest of my life,” Heath said. “This was the perfect opportunity to step in and say, ‘This is who I am.’”

“Kind of like what you did in boot camp?” I asked.

Bryan, who spent most of the conversation looking straight ahead, turned to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “Yes sir.”


Commercial Tool & Die opened Expert Tech, to help itself and its competitors, as well as people like Bryan Heath. It’s an effort to deal with an industrial crisis born of the rebirth of manufacturing in West Michigan. Business is booming. The demand is there after a decade that was lost to the industrial sector. Now the problem is finding people trained in the skill sets that are needed.

“The community colleges have pulled back, the vocational and technical schools are not as prevalent as they used to be. There just isn’t the infrastructure there used to be support skill and knowledge development in our trade,” Todd Finley, the president of Commercial Tool and Die said.

Quite simply, the talent pool is nearly drained and could become a barely damp puddle.

“We have really gutted our educational pipeline for skilled manufacturing,” Ryan Pohl, the president of Expert Tech explained. “There is no feeder pipeline for people coming in with basic skills.”

Filling that pool company by company could be an insurmountable challenge because although it is something every shop should be doing, let’s be honest; some are so small they are running as fast as they can just to stay in place. There’s no money and no time to put together anything close to an in-house training program

That is why CTD formed Expert Tech. “Give me someone who will show up every day and work hard,” said Pohl, “and I will train them for a company or I will train someone for free, betting I can find work for them.”


This is an excerpt from Where Are The Workers? one of the ebooks in the Restore The Roar: Manufacturing Renaissance series. It is available wherever ebooks are sold as well as through Rod Kackley’s free app that can be downloaded through iTunes and Google Play.



Rod Kackley is a journalist who has written for Crain’s Michigan Business, MiBiz and The Detroit News. He is also a former news director of WOOD-AM/FM and has written the book, Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community.For more information, please to go

© 2012 Lyons Circle Publishing Inc.

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