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Constructing an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce at Volvo CE

June 14, 2016
How Volvo Construction Equipment is bridging the skills gap.

“Cross-functionality” is a phrase that surfaces several times in a conversation with Sean Glennon, co-president of Volvo CE, and looking at his career, it’s easy to understand why. He’s that golden type who can fluidly move between front office and operations.

“If you go into a functional area [from a front office role], you’ve got to work with the people in a positive, constructive way and learn and listen a lot because you don’t come from that area,” Glennon said. “So I’ve always tried to do that. It’s helped me perform at the level that I do today.”

Glennon began his career at Ingersoll Rand in finance, then materials and planning. There, he spent some time in order management, process and systems, and a bit of time in purchasing.

In 2007, he was managing global implementation of Oracle at IR when Volvo acquired IR’s road machinery division. At Volvo CE, he took on the role of managing integration of the Ingersoll Rand division into the new company. 

A couple of years later, he was promoted to head of Volvo CE’s Shippensburg, Penn., plant, which produces wheel loaders, compaction equipment and paving equipment. Two years ago, he moved to his current role, where he’s made cross-functionality a priority for his 1,000+ employees with in-house and outside training.

Glennon talked to IndustryWeek about workforce development at Volvo CE.

How do you develop your skilled workforce?

We have a very close relationship with Shippensburg University and other universities in the area like Penn State. We have interns who work cross-functionally in engineering, purchasing, human resource, financing, marketing and communications.

We can’t always hire the interns we train, but it’s our intent to prepare them. Because you never know how that may be returned to you. They may end up working with a supplier that we work with. They could end up working for a dealer or a customer.

We also have a pretty healthy relationship with some of the technical schools in the counties near our facility. We helped develop the curriculum and provided some tooling and fixturing. They learn not just how to weld or assemble, but also some lean manufacturing methods and principles.

How are the internships set up?

It’s a combination. We have students that come from out of state schools, who can only perform summer work. We have others that are more local so they can invest 20 to 30 hours a week in addition to their classes. All of our interns are paid. We try to balance their work schedule and their class schedule; it depends on the student and the school and their curriculum.

Our investment and the time that we take to train our people, whether you’re an intern or a temporary employee or a full-time employee, we treat that training and investment the same. Because we never know--that intern may become a full-time employee at some point. So from day one they get the same introduction to Volvo and the same experience as any other employee.

You have a program at least one of the local community colleges, Franklin County Career Technical Center, for certification mechanical assembly, which includes lean principles. Do you work with other companies to build that kind of curriculum?

We collaborate with not necessarily competitors but other businesses that are also closely involved in our industry. They don’t make the exact same products, but we’re within the same counties and we need a lot of the same skills and competencies, so we try to work together to focus so we know those skills are trained and ready when we need them.

 The students walk out with that certificate with a curriculum that Volvo helped put together, and that certificate would be applicable at any of those other manufacturers in the area.

Do you see any specific skills coming down the pike that require more training?

I think the skills that are becoming more and more required are those related to electrical systems and electronics. Things are becoming more automated, more robotic, more software-oriented. That’s already begun. You can see it in the products, but that’s also part of the manufacturing process.

In the past few years, our investments have been in material handling automation, next generation robotics, welding and dry machining. We have a lot of programmable machining centers. We have robotic welding. We have a lot of AGVs to move materials. Those types of things are just going to become more prevalent.

And then when you look at the manufacturing site itself, we’ve got automated building management systems that control the ventilation, the climate, the lighting.

All these types of things are innovations that we continue to invest in, but they’re also things that we need to prepare our people to be able to sustain and maintain to even make us more productive. So I see this as an important part of our employees’ skill sets that we’re going to need to continue to make sure they have.

Then there’s process. We can expect to see more in terms of the common assembly lines, common production—where you have multiple products on one line, supported by an automated tow system. I think you can expect to see more of this. I know this is where we’re putting our time and effort within Volvo. 

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

I work with IndustryWeek's contributors and report on leadership and the automotive industry as they relate to manufacturing. Got a story idea? Reach out to me at [email protected]


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