November 12. 2012 9:00AM

Teachable fit

Generation Y

By Aleta Norris

Jeff Karlson, a supervisor at Allis-Roller in Franklin, had much to share about his two-and-a-half-year timeframe with the company when we spoke recently. A member of Generation Y, Jeff is an exciting representation of what we see in so many organizations – members of the emerging workforce who are on fire for what they do.

As I talked with Jeff about his role – overseeing a team of employees in a newly-added location for the company – he was clearly excited about what he is doing. Contributing to his excitement? He has been selected as the candidate from his organization to begin an 18-month manufacturing apprenticeship program at MATC in January.

As a part of this program, Jeff will attend a weekly one-day class at MATC (for one year) and then receive significant guidance and mentorship back at his work environment. The program, designed through a collaborative effort involving educators and industry leaders (and provided through a partnership of the state Department of Workforce Development and MATC), is designed to last 18 months and provides a framework for participating companies to support the process.

"We need more interest from companies in our business community to support programs like this one," said Dave Dull, president of Allis-Roller. Both Dave and Julie Zaja, manufacturing manager at Allis-Roller, spoke enthusiastically about their commitment to doing their part to help close the skills gap. Along with their support of MATCs new Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program, they have been involved in and exploring additional avenues to recruit young machinists and welders, then investing in their development and success.

"We are fully aware that young workers today are looking for an advancement pathway," said Julie Zaja. "They are interested in variety and change. We all need workers, and we've decided we're better off looking for the type of person we want … then grooming them and supporting them. We need an education component right in the workplace."

Julie went on to share that one of the things that has supported Jeff's success, as well as the success of other employees at Allis-Roller, is the commitment of their key supervisors.

"Jeff's supervisor gets along really well with people and wants to help them," she said.

This is critical. I've said this before – employees join companies and leave bosses. Part of Jeff's success is the availability of his leadership.

"One of my biggest challenges coming into the company was that I knew nothing about steel or welding," Karlson said. "I just kept going to the proper people who could answer my questions. My supervisors spent a lot of time with me to train me."

Before I continue, let me reiterate, as I have before, that while I am a fierce advocate of Generation Y, I am not advocating that organizations have the sole responsibility of catering to the preferences of the Gen Y workforce, the answer will lie in the middle.

So, what IS the compromise? The leaders of Allis-Roller have sent a clear message to Jeff Karlson: "You make a difference." That is, without question, contributing to his passion for what he does and his productivity. According to Julie, however, he brought a bunch to the table.

"Jeff is quality minded, conscientious, gives suggestions, is leadership minded and is responding well to the added responsibility we've given him," she said.

Organizations today, more and more, are beginning to build their models and approaches around their need to attract and, more importantly, retain talent. As Julie mentioned, Allis-Roller has tried to be in tune with what young people are looking for. Along these same lines, I had an opportunity to talk with Kathleen Hohl, director of communications and events at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

Reinforcing the same type of interest in understanding the emerging workforce, Kathleen said, "As we try to recruit emerging workers to our manufacturing apprenticeship program, we know there has to be some kind of cool factor. We're focused on how we can make manufacturing look cool, because young people, in particular, are swept up by what's new and viral. We're also focusing on renewable and sustainable, because we see young people focusing on Earth-friendly habits. We know we have to tap into where they are if we want to capture their attention."

Yes, to a large degree today, the individual rules. It's great to see organizations stepping back to explore their part in the equation. It inspires the Jeff Karlsons of the world to step forward and do theirs.

Aleta Norris is a principal and co-founder of Brookfield-based Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. She can be reached at


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