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Direct action

Tired of watching potential employees sign up with Chick-fil-A and other national companies Somerset-based MICRO seeks to match high school graduates with manufacturing careers

MICRO employees work in a clean room assembly for hand-held disposable instruments. (MICRO)

Trying to attract high school students into manufacturing is a common problem among New Jersey businesses. MICRO, a Somerset-based contract manufacturer of medical device components, is taking matters into its own corporate hands.

Frank Semcer Jr., principal and director of human resources at MICRO, hopes to reach recent high school graduates and introduce them to careers at the company.

“The labor market is tight throughout the United States and in New Jersey,” Semcer said. “We have to find new sources to bring people into manufacturing. Our industry has not done a really good job of publicizing opportunities in manufacturing. It seems like oil and water between high schools and manufacturing.”

In an attempt to remedy the shortage, MICRO will host a manufacturing career open house on May 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 130 Belmont Drive in Somerset for high school students seeking employment after graduation. MICRO offers opportunities for recent graduates to learn a trade, receive on-the-job training, and find a path toward growth. MICRO is inviting students, parents, teachers and school counselors.

“A majority of high schools push their students into colleges,” Semcer said. “It may or may not be the right choice for those students.”

The challenge Semcer faces is that high schools are often reluctant to send their graduates directly into the workforce.

“High schools are rated on where they are sending their students into colleges,” Semcer said. “The education system talks a different language than manufacturing. … We are reaching out to show them the facilities. The more time you spend with somebody, the better you get to know them. Hopefully, as the high schools start to come into MICRO, see what our needs are, the environment we have here, they will be changing their perception. The perception of manufacturing is dirty, dark, dangerous and dead-end. That’s completely the opposite of what we have at MICRO.”

Alternative track

A MICRO operator programs Robodrill with 21 machining turrets. (MICRO)

Semcer said the company is targeting students who do not want to go to college and trying to work with schools to open a path into manufacturing.

Toward this end, MICRO works with the Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology in providing internships and co-ops. MICRO provides a paid apprenticeship program with wages of up to $56,000 per year that lasts for four years, he said.

“You look at somebody coming out of high school doing an apprenticeship at MICRO earning $56,000 per year,” Semcer said. “The same time someone is coming out of college with a lot of debt and earning lower than that.”

Another challenge: MICRO is not known to many high school students, unlike national companies. Semcer came to this realization while attending a job fair and saw high school students waiting to apply for jobs at Chick-fil-A. Fewer wanted to learn about opportunities at MICRO.

“Everyone knows Chick-fil-A but here’s MICRO with very high-paying jobs that we can offer,” Semcer said. “Some of the opportunities at the entry level start at $15 per hour.”

Semcer said MICRO is using Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to publicize its career opportunities and raise its profile.

Steven Santoro, executive vice president at MICRO, said the company is already employing 40 people in project development, product development and process engineering. These people work directly with MICRO’s medical device customers to help move products from research and development into the marketplace.

“This business has been expanding,” Santoro said. “There are a lot of customers who want to work with us and we want to expand that capability. We are going to add about twice the floor space so they have a state-of-the-art facility in their new building.”

“Our customers many times need quite a few components for testing,” Santoro said. “In order to do that, you have to have a small production facility so they can do their bio-burden testing or their engineering studies to see if the device works the way it does before they launch and actually use it on human patients.”

MICRO’s customers design the products and MICRO makes them according to those specifications.

“You can design anything,” said Al Carolonza, principal and director of market research and strategy at MICRO. “We are good at helping our customers understand how to make it in mass production.”

Founded in 1944, MICRO is a family-owned business that recently added 50,000 square feet of space with the purchase of a third building, at 130 Belmont Drive in Somerset. The new office is located adjacent to company-owned buildings at 100 and 140 Belmont Drive. In June, MICRO will open a 15,000-square-foot research and development center inside the new building.

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: