Roger Hargens, CEO of Accumold was interviewed on Bloomberg Radio’s morning show, Bloomberg Markets AM with Lisa Abramowicz. He discussed the wearable market, Accumold’s rapid growth, our micro molding technology, the Accumold Scholars program and our strategy for developing the future skilled workforce.
The skilled labor challenges and worker shortage challenges have been well noted and our efforts to combat this challenge have insulated us from a very real problem most companies are facing. The WSJ recently reported that in our home state of Iowa there are far more jobs than even people.
In our micro molding process, which is a highly precise and extremely fast, finding skilled employees is critical.
Listen to Roger Hargen’s Bloomerg Interview.
Bloomberg Markets AM Interview. Hargens on Wearable Market
June 13, 2018 — 10:45 AM ET
Roger Hargens, CEO of Accumold, on the wearable market, micro molding, and how they are tackling the skilled worker shortage. He speaks on Bloomberg Markets AM with Lisa Abramowicz.
Lisa Abramowicz: The labor market is getting tight. If you talk to a lot of chief executives, it is hard to hire qualified workers. Our next guest is from one of the fastest-growing companies in Des Moines, Iowa and we have the CEO, here with us, Roger Hargens. The company is Accumold, and he joins us here in our 1130 studios. Thank you so much for being here.
Roger, you hired a tremendous amount of people, 84% staff increase from 2014 through 2017. Has it been difficult to find qualified employees?
Roger Hargens: Finding the right employees is always a challenge but we’ve been very fortunate because we have we have a good brand in our marketplace we have a good culture and we have good references from our existing employees.
We decided to start our own program 12 years ago with the Des Moines Area Community College with the Accumold Scholarship Program – we determined at that time that we were going to “grow our own,” so to speak. Kids coming out of high school that wanted to go to college to get a degree in Tool and Die Making or Robotics and Automation, we started sponsoring that and funding the tuition, and it has been a very successful program.
Abramowicz: So, can you give us a sense of what Accumold does? And it sort of goes against the grain that it’s a manufacturing company in the US that has not been exported. What does it do?
Hargens: We are a high-tech manufacturer of thermoplastic injection mold and micro-sized components for the medical device, micro-electronics and micro-optics industry, primarily. And, we design and build our own tooling to produce customer-specific components, usually critical components, that make their assemblies work. And we ship all over the country; we ship to 23 countries, we’ve been an exporter almost 70% for 15-16 years.
Abramowicz: Ok, so as a manufacturer in the US, have you been tempted to move any of your operations overseas due to a cheaper workforce or more potential employees?
Hargens: That’s a great question and we get asked that a lot. The answer is, “No.” The thing we have found is that the IP for our customers is very important – their critical component designs are very important.
Abramowicz: Intellectual property, yeah.
Hargens: And we made a decision to stay in the US. We are very competitive. We are highly innovative, and we have been able to attract the right kind of employee that we want for the long term, that helps solve the problems for producing components for our customers.
Abramowicz: So, when you say that you are helping to finance the education of specific individuals who you think will be good employees, what is sort of the most important thing/skill for your prospective employees to learn in a college- type setting?
Hargens: They need to start grasping what the technical challenges on micro-sized parts are. From designing of tooling and automation, they need to understand we are a culture of problem-solving, and they need to really understand that they can work well in teams. We take a team approach internally as we solve problems for our customers.
Abramowicz: One thing that I’m wondering; you said that you are an exporter, “a pretty big exporter.” Are you concerned, or have you been affected by, some of the tariff discussions or tenser trade discussions?
Hargens: We have not.
Abramowicz: Are you concerned about that?
Hargens: We are always concerned about any trade barriers that are out there. We have not seen that happen. I don’t believe it will have any really big effect on our type components that we produce.
Abramowicz: Given the fact that people are talking about the tight labor market, have you found that you have had to increase salaries more than you had previously in order to attract talent?
Hargens: Yes, and like the market conditions, we are continually trying to attract the best and brightest, so absolutely, pay has to go up somewhat.
Abramowicz: How much has it gone up in the past few years?
Hargens: In certain skilled trades it has gone up more than others. Certain things, whether you’re a robotics operation person or a tool and die person, it’s on a faster trend than maybe somebody without those skills that is doing regular production.
Abramowicz: So, can you just explain, what if you go into one of your plants, what you will see.
Hargens: What you will see at Accumold is, first off, we have a team working together to design tools to build product, to build the tools and automation and then run the products and validate them in our plant. What you will be able to see is a team of people. We have lots of areas that are proprietary, that are off-limits – only certain employees can be in those areas to produce these critical components for our customers.
Abramowicz: So, there are components; just trying to wrap my head around some of these nearly microscopic parts that determine whether or not your phone, whether or not the surgical arm that goes in and does the laparoscopic surgery, whatever it is, these crucial parts, the design of them is, ”make it or break it.” Is that right? I mean, am I understanding this correctly?
Hargens: Right. The customer typically will design what they want. We work with them and help them make sure the design is ready for manufacturing. So there’s always a compromise, making sure it works well in a production environment at a rate that makes sense. So, we then produce the parts and ship them to our customers all over the world for assembly. It can be med device, it can be life sciences, it can be in blood glucose monitoring or different things; it’s a big area.
Eye surgery, we’re big into surgical components for the eyes.
Abramowicz: OK, so we’ve been talking a lot about smaller, private businesses, and how business confidence has been surging. Do you feel that, as well?
Hargens: Yes, very much so. We see the competitiveness today, and we have been competitive over the years, today even more so through innovation and automation we’ve been able to remain very competitive on the world stage. This is the reason we are shipping to other countries on a regular basis.
Abramowicz: Are there competitors in the US?
Hargens: There’s a few smaller ones, yes; “mom and pop shops.”
Abramowicz: OK, so you know, some people talk about how there seems to be a bifurcation in the economy where wealthier individuals are making more money, and there’s a whole host of people left out. Do you see that? Or, do you not see that?
Hargens: We don’t really see that. We see anybody that truly wants to work and learn can get a job. Iowa has, as you know, one of the lowest unemployment rates, 2.9% I think is where we are at today, so we’re working, #1, to keep every employee, to grow their skill set and attract new ones.
Abramowicz: Do you think that kids require a 4-year education in college?
Hargens: In certain areas, if that’s what they want to go into, yes. We don’t. What we’re looking for is people who have those skill sets of really wanting to work in manufacturing, whether it’s in production, or if they want to go into tool and die, robotics and automation – the two year degree is a very good start for us.
Abramowicz: And you certainly are financing the Accumold Scholarship Program, which is really interesting; basically paying college tuition and a part-time paid job to scholars, who then graduate and begin a full-time position at the company. Roger Hargens, thank you so much for being here; really interesting.
Roger Hargens is Chief Executive Officer of Accumold, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa. It is actually one of the largest and fastest-growing companies in Des Moines, so very interesting.