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Sparking Personal and Organizational Growth

Dec. 1, 2023
A ferrous foundry engaged its local university to customize an Industrial Management Certification Program that promotes organizational improvement and develops leadership abilities.

Magotteaux Inc. is a 900,000-sq. ft. ferrous foundry that has been a stable employer in Pulaski, TN, since 1973. It is the only U.S. manufacturing operation for a global metalcasting group offering “process optimization solutions for abrasive and impact applications in mining, cement, aggregates, quarrying, and power stations and services customers in over 150 countries.

In the spring of 2022, Magotteaux plant manager Louis Woods contacted the local university – The University of Tennessee Southern – seeking assistance in employee leadership and skills development. UT Southern is a liberal arts institution and the newest university in the Tennessee system, established in 2021 through the acquisition of Martin Methodist College, itself founded in 1870. It is the only public four-year institution of higher education between Chattanooga and Memphis, and located about 70 miles south of Nashville and 40 miles north of Huntsville, AL. Because Woods was new to the area and did not have adequate contacts, he made his request through the university’s chatbot, and that inquiry was directed to the Career Services office.

UT Southern Provost Dr. Judy Blankenship Cheatham assembled a team to develop and execute a plan for Magotteaux: an Industrial Management Certification Program customized to the specific requests of the organization.

Dr. Lorie Pettus Jones and Lt. Col. (Ret.) W. Cochran Pruett joined the university faculty university in 2021 after spending decades in industry (Jones) and military operations (Pruett). Jones is a Six Sigma Black Belt and served in various engineering and management roles in a Fortune 500 organization.  During his military career, Pruett had a specialty in leadership development and provided executive level leadership to organizations from 10 to 1,500 persons in three combat tours, with a stint at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They collaborated to develop a 12-month curriculum subdivided into six modules covering the following content areas: creative problem-solving and Lean techniques, business communication, conflict resolution, principles of management, budgeting and ethics, and workplace safety.

Program for learning

Magotteaux’s leadership used a layered audit of training needs to determine the subjects to be covered, and together the foundry and UT Southern agreed upon four Program Learning Outcomes:
(1) Employees will use quantitative and qualitative tools to formulate and solve production problems that support decision making.

(2) Employees will communicate effectively through written and oral expression.

(3) Employees will demonstrate an understanding of human behavior in organizations, including the ability to effectively lead and resolve conflict in a team setting.

(4) Employees will identify and explain basic safety requirements and good safe work habits for working in an industrial environment.

The Magotteaux foundry has a full-time workforce of over 200 employees, of whom 21 men and women participated in the training program that began in September 2022. The cohort – 13 men and eight women, aged 27 to 58 – was one of multidimensional diversity: Some participants were first-time, front-line supervisors while others had two-to-three decades of managerial experience in various industries. Their occupational roles included production management, quality, logistics, accounting, maintenance, human resources, safety, and production control. 

Jones and Pruett delivered the curriculum for the tailor-made workforce development program in the foundry’s training room two days per week, during the employees’ lunch period. All costs were covered by Magotteaux.

Offering classes in the active work zone as opposed to the university campus provided many valuable benefits to program participants. For example, instead of putting onto paper what a 5 S application would “look like,” as one would do in a classroom for an operations management class, employees went out into their respective work areas, physically applied the 5 S’s (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain), and then shared before and after images of the project with the cohort.

The instructors used D.A. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984) as the pedagogical model. Within that framework, instructors centered the work on “reflective observation” and “abstract conceptualization.” Coursework supplied many opportunities for reflection on workplace experience and fostered abstract concepts for direct workplace experimentation.

Interesting and useful

Some course modules were exercise driven – e.g., de-escalation roleplay and distributive bargaining in the conflict resolution module; while others were assessment focused – e.g., Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, used in the general management module.

The aim of the instructors was to deliver both an interesting and useful curriculum in a work-appropriate space. As employer and employee would both attest, training involving practical skills that are not executed quickly will soon be forgotten. Common instruction feedback processes included post-class discussions, individual and in-class inquiries, and post-module surveys.

Some students’ comments and feedback collected via surveys included:
·      “No one has ever showed me how to budget anything. This module (ethics and budgeting) was so helpful.

·       “I wish I had taken this class (business communication) earlier in life. Everyone should go through the business communication module. It made me aware of bad habits I have picked up over the years.”

·       “This was a great module (conflict resolution) and was very hands-on, with many scenarios on how to actually resolve conflict, not just at work, but in everyday life as well.”

·       “I’m 53 years old, and I never enjoyed school. Now that we are near the end, I’m really going to miss it.”

·       “I hope this type of program can be used for other people in other companies.”

According to plant manager Louis Woods, the program’s visionary and architect of the program: “I wanted to build a more cohesive team. I wanted silos to be broken down through stronger collaboration. I have seen that. They now stop by my office and openly discuss things they have learned in class.”

More than this, key performance indicators for the plant have improved by 25-30% since the program began in the fall of 2022. From a professional development standpoint, Magotteaux has promoted six program participants during the program.

Twenty-one Magotteaux employees received University of Tennessee Southern Industrial Management Certificates on August 25, 2023, worth 9.6 Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

Now, an opportunity exists for program graduates to earn experiential credit at the university. Employees received certificates and a customized memento of the program – an inscribed display holding a ball bearing manufactured in the Magotteaux facility – during a graduation luncheon held on campus in the historic Colonial Hall. UT Southern Chancellor Dr. Linda C. Martin, the Provost Dr. Judy Cheatham, Jones and Pruett, and the Pulaski mayor J.J. Brindley all attended.

“Being able to partner with UT Southern was a huge deal for us,” Woods told the Pulaski Citizen, just after the program began. “We have the highest-level educators in our community coming to our facility to promote leadership and continued education. We want to make sure these men and women have every resource at their disposal to help continue to see this place grow.” 

Spark, ignition

The program was indeed a fantastic opportunity for community partnership between the university and a local industry. It expands most people’s traditional understanding of the role for universities and shows the value it can bring to the wider community.

2023 has been a banner year for Magotteaux: The foundry was chosen by the Pulaski Rotary Club as industry of the year, recognizing its 50 years in continuous service; for earning the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) Governor’s Award of Excellence for Workplace Safety and Health upon achieving 600,000 hours with no lost-time accidents; and investing in its employees by initiating the industrial management certification program.  

The UT Southern mascot is Flame the Firehawk, a mythical creature with thunder in its wings and fire in its eyes. A slogan often heard around campus is, “A single spark can ignite a future so bright for all who find their fire here.” No one knows more about fire than foundry workers, and thanks to their partnership, Magotteaux and UT Southern have learned some new ways to fly.

Lorie Pettus Jones is the MBA Director and Associate Professor of Business at UT Southern. 

W. Cochran Pruett is a retired U.S. Army officer and an instructor in the social sciences at UT Southern.