Arcadia, WI – Ashley Furniture Industries hosted a grand opening for the Advanced Technology Maker Center (ATMC) earlier this month. Employees, educators and community members came to celebrate the $2 million investment in workforce training.

The Need for Training

Ashley Furniture is the world’s largest manufacturer of furniture. The company continues to grow its worldwide presence, but the skills-gap has had an affect on its ability to find skilled workers locally. Particularly in rural Arcadia, Wisconsin, where Ashley’s headquarters is located.

Ron Wanek, Founder & Chairman of Ashley Furniture, addresses the crowd at the Advanced Technology Maker CenterThe ATMC was developed in an effort to keep the workforce local while staying competitive in a global economy. Now, new hires from any background can learn hard skills specific to their roles. Additionally, the high schoolers who take advanced manufacturing classes in the ATMC or Mobile Skills Lab can graduate and get a great job at Ashley.

Todd Wanek, President and CEO of Ashley Furniture, commented, “As an organization, we’re investing back into our people significantly in education…to make sure that we have a future.”

The ATMC will also be a training center for incumbent workers. It will help refresh skills and train toward more advanced roles.

This is particularly important as the company invests more in automation. The Innovation Center next door has a team that designs and builds automation cells to free up workers from rote or labor-intensive tasks. These workers can then train for more advanced roles.

Wanda Cartrette, who leads the training efforts at the ATMC, put it best. “The Advanced Technology Maker Center is a game-changer for Ashley Furniture, its incumbent employees, and our education partners.”

Inside the Advanced Technology Maker Center

The Advanced Technology Maker Center has hands-on training equipment from Amatrol and FANUC, as well as CNC machines, and 3D printers from Markforged. There’s even a full mechatronics smart factory for teaching Industry 4.0 skills.

Individuals get a customized training plan developed from 300 courses with over 3,000 hours of content. At any given time, the ATMC has employees working through objectives and skills for fluid power, mechanical and electrical skills, robotics, quality assurance, maintenance, troubleshooting and more.

At the grand opening celebration, Ashley Furniture recognized a group of individuals who completed the first of four Industry 4.0 courses. 75% of those plan to return to take more courses on a volunteer basis.

“The smart factories we have today require a totally new workforce, and that’s what this is all about – training people for what’s coming. And we’re very proud of our people here,” remarked Founder and Chairman Ron Wanek.

It’s All About Employees

Wanda Cartrette has been working at Ashley Furniture for nearly 30 years. When she started in production, she was told which buttons to push without being taught the technology behind the machine. If anything went wrong, she couldn’t troubleshoot. A maintenance person would have to be called, causing stoppages on the line.

That’s not the case anymore.

Technology is advancing exponentially. It’s now imperative that employees understand the systems and components behind their work. It will allow them to take charge over their workspace, troubleshoot and keep production running.

Individuals who really own their work are motivated to learn and grow within the company. The ATMC provides that opportunity for them.

“Identifying the skills gaps, filling those, and then also putting our incumbent employees on a fast-track to their careers, we can do that right here,” remarked Cartrette. “And if they choose to continue on with their education with our post-secondary partnerships, that’s great for us and great for the community.”

You can keep up with the happenings of the Advanced Technology Maker Center on LinkedIn.

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