Climbing the career ladder at Hitchiner
Employees dive in to Milford firm’s on-site Engineering Certificate Program
On a Thursday afternoon, 14 students sat and awaited their 4:30 geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GDT) class to begin. The title and the material of the class are certainly what one would expect from a college-level course, but the mix of students was definitely not.
The classmates were diverse. Students ranged from their mid-20s to -50s and include native New Hampshirites as well as native Kenyans. They sat around joking and laughing with each other before class started like they had known each other for years. The fact of the matter is that some of them had.
The course, which is part of a continuing education engineering certificate program run through Keene State College, is made up entirely of Hitchiner Manufacturing employees and takes place on the manufacturer’s Milford campus.
Hitchiner, which employs about 600 at its Milford location, produces metal components through the company’s patented investment casting processes – parts that are used in the automobile, aerospace and defense industries, among others.
First offered in the spring of 2015, the Engineering Certificate Program is made up of 11 different classes, ranging from basic math, communication and public speaking skills, drafting, sketching and CAD. The Keene State/Hitchiner curriculum focuses on offering courses that are directly related not only to the everyday requirements of work in a manufacturing environment, but the prospect of career advancement
According to Timothy C. Sullivan, Hitchiner’s vice president, corporate affairs and services, the program as a serves many purposes and benefits everyone involved, employees and the company itself. it also has the added advantage of acting as a recruiting tool for Hitchiner, said Sullivan.
But from Hitchiner’s perspective, developing their existing employees’ skills also serves an even higher purpose, he said. “Our hope is that these classes will help build careers within our company.”
Though the engineering certificate program has only been in operation since last spring, one student has already moved up into a more senior and exempt level position as a result.
Renee Daigneault has been with Hitchiner for eight years. She began with the company as a metal cell operator, and over the course of her career at the company became a senior source inspector. It wasn’t until this past year that she made her first considerable leap up the chain of command to her current position as a salaried associate quality engineer.
“The whole class seemed like a good opportunity to get me where I wanted to be in the company and to help me understand more of what I’m working with,” Daigneault says.
Daigneault had been one of the production workers that do their work on parts based on their interpretation of the work instructions that are prepared for them specifically. Now, because of the Keene State program, she is the one handling the blueprints and writing the work instructions for the production workers.
“My goals right now are to complete this program and continue moving up, but my goals when I started were to get to the position that I am now,” she says.
What’s the catch? For Hitchiner employees, there really isn’t one. The classes come at no cost, making it as one Hitchiner employee would call it, a no brainer.
“I couldn’t do this if it took student loans,” Britta Doucet says. “It’s rare you’ll find an option like this that can get you advanced in the company and that is this economically feasible.”
Doucet has been with Hitchiner for six years and works on the production floor. She represents one of the many students who are finding the classes to be paying off when it comes to their on-the-job knowledge.
“After the blueprint class we took, we definitely had a better understanding of what we were working on, day-to-day. It’s been beneficial on so many points,” she says.
The program itself, from beginning to end, takes about 2½ years to complete. Hitchiner and Keene State offer a rolling admission process, which lets students jump into the program whenever a new class begins.
Of the 14 students that were in attendance that Thursday, about eight had been involved since the program’s inception.
Classes are held for two hours twice a week and run between eight and 12 weeks, depending on the course, putting the students that began in the spring of 2015 on track to finish in the summer of 2017. Though it is only one class at a time, juggling school, full-time employment and personal life still are a balancing act.
“I work the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift,” says production floor worker George Munyua, who decided to take advantage of the class despite only having been with the company for nine months. “So I just have to make up time at work that I missed but the company makes it easy for me do that.”
Because of the company’s various shifts and departments, Sullivan says that Hitchiner makes concerted efforts to make the course available to everyone, no matter their situation.
“Hitchiner understands the relationship between educational successes, business success and economic development,” says Keene State’s corporate relations officer, Daniel Henderson. “They were as interested in providing this type of opportunity as we were offering it, which is what I think makes this program so successful.”