SHERIDAN — Often, those who work in manufacturing find themselves characterized as factory workers on assembly lines. But, manufacturing jobs can vary as much as those who occupy them.
Craftco Metals Services takes on a lot of jobs. They repair heavy machinery for mines. They develop solutions for those who work in agriculture and need just the right part to keep working fields or moving livestock.
According to the Wyoming Business Council, manufacturing is a $2.4 billion industry in Wyoming and accounts for 5.3 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. The industry is a key source of good-paying jobs — Wyoming’s 9,800 manufacturers average $64,600 in annual wages.
More than 520 manufacturing firms can be found across Wyoming. They create products from raw materials ranging from beef, yarn and grains to steel, coal and electronics.
For Craftco employees, each day presents a new project and a new solution that needs to be found.
Just this past week, for example, Craftco employees were working on the large green recycling bins used by the city for things like cardboard.
Craftco Metals Services general manager Jeff Garrelts said those who work for the company, which includes about 22 employees, enjoy the variety that each day brings. They also enjoy the challenges customers present to them.
Ideas come to them as detailed as computer-aided drawings and as simple as bar-napkin sketches. Craftco employees then take those ideas and make them a reality.
“You definitely have to have somebody that can think on their feet,” Garrelts said. “Some one who is not afraid to make decisions and go with it. I call them modern-day craftsman, or something of the sort. They have a lot of technology and fancy tools — it’s not just a hammer and a punch or a fire forging stuff. It still takes a craftsman to utilize the tools and technology that we have to build what people want.”
In the past, Craftco has created storage solutions for art at Sheridan College. Originally, the storage was built using plywood. But, plywood has chemicals in it that can be harmful to art. Craftco mimicked the original design, but used steel instead.
This fall, Craftco has been asked to create a large, metal Christmas decoration for the roof of another local business.
The company also creates signs for groups like SAGE Community Arts, Sheridan College and other organizations and makes the steel bases for the downtown sculptures.
Recently, Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson pointed out that the average age of a manufacturing employee is 56, and between now and 2020 there will be an unprecedented shortage of skilled workers who will need to be replaced.
While Craftco Metals has a fairly young crew, Garrelts said the company has organized a scholarship that will help train students in the welding program at Sheridan College.
“We recognize that there is a shortage of experienced, skilled, trained labor out there and we’re willing to take that on,” Garrelts said.
He attributed the shortage to a culture in education that exists today. Students, he said, have been taught for a long time that after high school they need to get an engineering degree or become a doctor. But, he said, in reality people can find jobs that provide a quality living with less school.
The key to success isn’t necessarily the amount of schooling, he added, but the amount of work somebody puts into a job. If somebody is willing to work hard to become a skilled welder or manufacturer, he or she will likely be able to find a job that pays well.