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Fri, Dec. 06

'Granting' job training

PRESCOTT VALLEY -- Mike DeSoto has opened many doors and windows to make his company a success.

And DeSoto, vice president of western operations of MI Windows and Doors (formerly MI Home Products) on Highway 69 is extremely pleased after receiving a $249,000 job training grant from the Arizona Department of Commerce in March.

This is the third DOC grant in as many years for DeSoto's company, with the others amounting to $18,000 and $50,000 in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

"This plant is doing very well," he said. "With all of the growth in the last two years, it's been at an accelerated pace. Two years ago we had a 15 percent (units sold) and last year we went up another 24 percent."

DeSoto said it's a matching grant that will ultimately allow the company to recoup about half of its $500,000 training budget, if he submits that large of a training budget.

The grant allows MI Windows and Doors the chance to implement a top-rate training program for all employees, allowing the company to provide safety, quality control, manufacturing efficiency, language and leadership education.

Gilbert Jimenez, director of the Arizona DOC, said in a press release that it's "encouraging" to see industry take advantage of the grant, which enables employers to upgrade workers' skills and enhance their competitiveness in the global economy.

Ellen Benson, director of the contract training department at Yavapai College, worked on the $249,000 grant.

"It's a great partnership to be able to utilize these job training monies and keep that money in the county," she said. "I think that's a good thing."

Benson exposed MI to the program and got the ball rolling. She said she provides some of the on-site language training and classes for the employer.

According to Benson, grant money is available to any for-profit company that pays into the state's unemployment insurance tax account.

She said she worked with Allison Mendibles, director of human resources for MI, for roughly four weeks. Benson said they conferred with employees at all levels to outline the types of training needed.

DeSoto said the grant helps alleviate the dilemma of many companies that struggle between wanting to better educate their employees but worry about lost wages and production.

"You want to get better, you want to train," he said. "You still need to make the product by the month because your bills are coming in by the month. Well, with the training grant it offsets that. You can afford to train because at least your wages are being presented as part of your cost, half of which then gets returned by the state."

According to DeSoto, training plans have to be projected out two years and must be fairly detailed, listing what is going to be done, who is going to be trained and whom or what organization is going to oversee the training.

"Training is just a wonderful thing," he said. "It makes the company better, it makes that person better. Whatever you're learning about É if you're learning you're a better person. And then it does help in the community as a whole."

Walking through the 238,000-square-foot plant in Prescott Valley, DeSoto explained that Kora Sanchez with Lean Associates is implementing the manufacturing techniques pioneered by Toyota Motor Co. in both English and Spanish.

"She's very effective," he said. "It really is focused on (preventing) waste. Our areas weren't organized; we were over-producing in some areas, under-producing in others and not making complete product, and that's what she is focusing on."

DeSoto said making employees better makes the company better. "By us becoming more efficient, it's a direct impact to our employees," he said. "If we can make more product, we can afford the wages, the wages go up because it's paid on the finished product, and that's more payroll for the community. It's a beautiful thing."

Sanchez's language skills are key, according to DeSoto, because a percentage of his workforce speaks Spanish.

MI Windows and Doors by the numbers:

¥ About 654,000 finished windows and doors last year.

¥ More than 20 million square feet of glass cut and processed.

¥ 14,000 finished windows and doors a week .

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