Technology and automation are changing the face of the modern factory worker.
Robots and artificial intelligence are replacing the repetitive movement jobs that have been increasingly hard to fill for employers in the state. The modern factory environment demands a more tech-savvy workforce that is expected to adapt quickly to the constant evolution and staggering capital investments Nevada manufacturers, such as Clearwater Paper, make in high-tech equipment.
According to Sean Krajnik, plant manager at Clearwater Paper, automation hasn’t significantly impacted their overall workforce numbers. Over time, though, job skill requirements have changed dramatically. Investing in technology and automating different processes has allowed Clearwater Paper to grow production of paper towels, bath tissue, napkins and facial tissue at the North Las Vegas plant to 50 truckloads a day with 260 employees.
Many of the manufacturing automation software programs now developed are as user friendly as the latest social media app. However, math and engineering knowledge is often required to customize and program them for operations specific to the job the piece of automation is filling.
This changing workforce dynamic presents a challenge for all manufacturers. Krajnik shares a common industry belief that high-school and college students benefit by understanding the new career path opportunities manufacturing provides. Working with the state’s high-schools and colleges and giving tours to show off laser-guided vehicles with interesting nick-names like Dragon, Condor, Elephant and Giraffe is critical to attracting and educating a new advanced technology workforce at Clearwater Paper.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are skills now required of many jobs, and there was a measurable gap identified a few years ago with students in Nevada. The STEM Coalition was founded to help fill that gap.
The Nevada STEM Coalition is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit founded in 2006 by Gathering Genius, Inc., whose mission is to promote leadership and collaboration among business, community, education, and government officials to develop nationally recognized science, technology, engineering and math education for Nevada students. More information on how any business may participate in the coalition can be found at nvstem.org.
When Clearwater Paper opened their Nevada operation in 1993 they were the most technologically advanced paper facility in the country, according to Krajnik. Previously, it was thought that paper plants typically need to be near abundant water sources. The technology assembled in the 750,000 square-foot building on the 23 acres in North Las Vegas proved successful, despite water challenges of the desert.
Clearwater Paper has operations in 14 states and is the largest publicly owned provider of store brand tissue products in the U.S. They have continued to evolve with, make capital investments in and consider themselves leaders in technology. Krajnik also commented that, not only does replacing repetitive production jobs with fully automated technology improve efficiency, they also continue to reduce work related injuries.
When asked what advice he would give other business owners regarding technology, Krajnik mentioned staying connected and networking with others in their industry. Serving on the Governor’s Manufacturing Sector Council has been instrumental in helping the leaders at Clearwater Paper discover and share ideas for improvement.
The mission of the Governor’s Workforce Development Board (GWDB) Industry Sector Councils is to convene representatives of Nevada business, education and labor to facilitate data-driven recommendations concerning sector-specific workforce needs and challenges that will help guide State workforce development efforts. There are nine different sector councils and meetings are open to the public.
Terry Culp is interim director of Nevada Industry Excellence.