INDEPENDENCE — Area students are learning there are career options aplenty in advanced manufacturing these days.
That’s one of the messages behind a school-outreach program Independence-based Geater Machining & Manufacturing has created in the last few years.
“We’ve done a lot with outreach the last year,” said Amber Youngblut, the company’s human resources manager.
That outreach comes in many forms, Youngblut said. It could be an overview of the career opportunities that kids might not otherwise be aware of. It could involve bringing some pieces of equipment to school to show students. It might involve such basics as how to get into the advanced manufacturing field.
The options are almost unlimited, and the outreach effort is growing, Youngblut said.
“We focus on what each school is looking for,” she said. “Some need career readiness (assistance), so we’ve gone out and helped with resumes or interviews. Some schools like to give their students an idea of what manufacturing is about, so we host students here.”
If students can’t travel, Geater will send a delegation to schools, and it will make sure its emissaries have any materials they might need to spark student interest, Youngblut said.
“It’s kind of based on what the school needs,” she said. “We send employees to metals classes and talk to them about careers in metals. We’ve done some career readiness with interviewing. We’ve donated equipment to the schools. It’s not a one-size-fits all; we try to meet them where they’re at.”
The school outreach initiative has been going on five years, Youngblut said.
It has been an unqualified success, said Jerry Bitterman, the company’s CEO.
“Our aggressive approach with it increased our awareness this last year significantly,” Bitterman said, noting Geater had contact with 10 schools at 28 events.
“We reached over 950 students in Northeast Iowa last year, and we did a couple (of events) in the Cedar Rapids area,” she said.
More events are likely in 2018, Youngblut noted.
“I think it’s so important to get that advanced manufacturing perspective out to the schools, because they don’t have it in a lot of cases,” she said. “They can’t afford equipment, which is expensive. We like to show them in general what advanced manufacturing has to offer. It doesn’t have to (require) a four-year degree.”
Some Geater employees do continue with their education, and the company helps them with a tuition reimbursement program, Bitterman said.
“There are 10 employees right now that are active with that now,” he said. “It may be a four-year degree, a two -year degree or a master’s.”
School outreach is an important investment in the Geater’s future, Bitterman noted.
“The way I look at it is, there’s a lot of growth out there and society, for quite a few years, said you needed a four-year degree,” he said. “We also found out 70 to 80 percent of students in high school don’t get a four-year degree. It’s about opportunities. It’s trying to educate people about manufacturing. It’s entirely different now. There’s engineering, computer programming.”
Geater values its employees for the roles they play in building a successful company, but also in contributing to a better world, Bitterman said.
“Society needs us; a lot of our parts are on that aircraft that takes us from place to place,” he said. “Each one of us now has a smart phone or cellphone, and the satellites that help direct those calls, we have parts on the rockets that took those up. That’s something that not everybody would think about.”
Geater Machining & Manufacturing, which the late Duane Geater launched in 1962 in Independence, remains a family-operated company, with a third generation now involved. Scott Geater, the founder’s son, is president.
Geater, which sells precision-machined and fabricated parts for use in aerospace and other high -tech industries, continues to grow and, indeed, will open a 14,000-square-foot addition in March, Bitterman said.
“It’s really due to growth,” Joe Meier, vice president of operations, said of the need for more space. “We’re really in growth mode, and that’s what’s driving employment levels.”
Indeed, Meier said, the company now has more than 300 full-time employees, compared to 100 about 12 years ago.
“We also are open basically around the clock – first, second, third and weekend shifts,” he said.
Bitterman said the company is busy due to “having a plan in place” that caters to all customer needs.
“Our customers trust us that we’re going to get it done and done right,” he said.
Geater has widened its customer base, as well, and that has fueled growth, Meier said.
“Seven of our top 10 customers in volume weren’t with us six years ago,” he noted.
Geater draws employees from a 60-mile radius around Independence, Bitterman said, citing Meier, a resident of Waverly, as one of several examples.
“Our plant manager, Dan Heller, lives in Cedar Falls; our CFO, Tyler Sturtz, lives in Marion,” Bitterman said.
Casting a wider net for customers, as well as future employees, bodes well for further growth at Geater, Bitterman said.
“I look for additional opportunities, new customers,” he said. “Each day around here is different.”