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Employers | Gen Z | Workforce Development |

Youth Apprenticeship Drives Innovation for Intertech Plastics

By Lanna Hernandez | CareerWise communications apprentice

Published from CareerWise Colorado.

Manufacturer Recognized Four Years in a Row with Contributions from High-School Apprentices


Intertech was founded in 1980 and quickly became known as an innovative manufacturing company, a reputation that is built upon developing a culture and workforce that thrives on collaboration and teamwork. Forty years later, Intertech is still innovating, both in its products and efficiencies, and through modern youth apprenticeship, a new talent-development strategy with an eye on tomorrow’s star employees.


President Jim Keppler guides Intertech to success through teamwork and innovation, key tenets of Intertech’s culture. This collaborative approach to the work has gained Intertech a number of industry awards, including the prestigious MAPP (Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors) Innovation Awards. Nearly 30 companies submitted entries for the recognition, and votes from more than 400 industry peers determined Intertech a winner. This is the fourth year in a row that Intertech has either won the award or been a finalist.


“Intertech is a learning organization,” says Kepler. “We’re out ahead of the technology and applying it to our work, but we’re also constantly learning the best ways to approach our business. Youth apprenticeship feeds Intertech’s evolution.” 


During the past three years, Intertech hired 14 youth apprentices from nearby high schools through CareerWise Colorado. Apprentices train alongside seasoned professionals, learning the skills and competencies they’ll need to step into a full-time role with the company. One such apprentice-turned-professional is Thomas Hagan. 


With background experience in engineering technical drawing, CAD and manufacturing classes, Hagen was a fast learner. “It feels good knowing that even at 19 I can get a start in this industry and contribute along with peers twice my age with degrees,” said Hagan.


Intertech’s apprentices have built automations to detect defects on the line, developing intelligent process controls and robotics to do what previously was an expensive and labor intensive process. “Thomas and our other youth apprentices created a system that saved us 2.4 million dollars in the last two years.” said Kepler. “Our apprenticeship program is a competitive advantage.” 


In some cases, Gen Z apprentices are coming to advanced manufactures with a working understanding of essential technologies such as SolidWorks, and have even used their knowledge to train existing, tenured staff on the programs.


Hagan and Intertech’s other apprentices bring innovation to an already innovative culture. “Apprentices come in with different mindset–a new take that isn’t burdened by historic views,” says Kepler. With his knowledge of Solid Works, Hagan developed the blueprint for the Innovation Award-winning project, creating the blueprint from which it could be assembled, including what Kepler called unique solutions in the build. “It would have been hard to win that award without Thomas.”


Hagen continues to play a role in introducing new methods, applications, and modernized steps towards efficiency. “Winning the Innovation Award demonstrated to me what true collaboration looks like and helped me develop a closer relationship to my coworkers,” said Hagan.


“You can’t have innovation without collaboration,” said Kepler. “I make sure that everyone is living to those values and we can really see it in how the company has embraced youth apprenticeship–and our clients and our industry are noticing the results.” 


For his part, Hagan is excited to have a future in manufacturing. The experience at Intertech has focused his career goals, provided a professional network of peers and mentors to help guide his career and a source of income to help further his education. “Being a part of a team that is winning global attention gives me confidence in myself, and my contributions are giving those around me confidence in my work.”