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February 22, 2004

ISD grads do well at Omaha Standard

From: Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, IA - Feb 22, 2004

DAN ESHELMAN , Staff Writer

The workforce at Omaha Standard's east plant in Council Bluffs is composed of highly-skilled individuals involved in making customized components for trucks.

Among the employees are five who share at least two common bonds.

They are committed to doing a quality job on every project they undertake. And they are all graduates of Iowa School for the Deaf.

"We're showing that deaf people can do work like this," said Nick Metteer, who has been a welder in the Omaha Standard facility at Second Avenue and 21st Street since 1998.

Holding a similar position at the plant is his brother, Dick Metteer Jr., along with their father, Dick Metteer. Also employed as welders are Rod Barrier and Daniel Case.

They use wire welding equipment to join shaped and molded pieces of metal to build truck bodies for a large number of companies who purchase the products.

"We all get along and cooperate," said Dick Metteer Jr., who has been with Omaha Standard since 1997. "We're part of a good team."

He graduated from ISD in 1996, a year ahead of his brother.

The two siblings were so impressed with the employment environment at the plant that they encouraged their father to apply for a job there. He did so and was hired in 2000.

Barrier, a 1983 ISD graduate who has been at the Omaha Standard facility since 1996, said he was glad when the Metteers became members of the workforce.

Their hiring, he indicated, was further proof of the capabilities of hearing-impaired individuals to acquire practical training and to successfully utilize their skills in job situations.

Case, who graduated from ISD in 1999, started at the east plant this month. He said the facility had a "good system" for incorporating deaf workers into production operations.

All of the former ISD students acknowledged the efforts that Omaha Standard had made to create optimum working conditions.

At first, communicating with the deaf employees entailed "a lot of note writing when giving instructions and answering questions," said Greg Mueller, supervisor at the east plant.

Eventually, Mueller and other staff members learned some basic signing vocabulary so that work assignments could be given in that visual manner.

Arrangements were also completed to have a certified sign language interpreter come to the facility periodically to discuss issues with the deaf workers and to relay comments and suggestions to management personnel.

"We've established a dialogue in this way," Mueller said. "But, on the job, the more signing I can do, the better I can communicate with the workers at the time a project needs to be done."

The ISD graduates, like all employees at Omaha Standard, went through an orientation and training process to become familiar with specific procedures carried out at the plant.

"We placed the new workers with experienced employees so they could observe our operations and learn how things were done," Mueller said.

Once the requisite knowledge was acquired and proficiency was demonstrated, the workers moved on to regular production activities.

Mueller noted that the deaf individuals were hired "because they had the skills and abilities needed for the jobs."

Communication issues aside, the ISD graduates got the positions based on "the qualifications they had, and on being able to do what was required," he said.

Their potential for success was enhanced by the education they received at ISD.

In courses there, students learn how to read blueprints and how to select appropriate materials - mostly steel - for specific projects. They also develop skills in cutting, bending, grinding and welding.

"These skills are all in demand in industry, and the transition to work at Omaha Standard and other manufacturers seems to be going smoothly," said Bob Schulze, who teaches metals technology classes at ISD.

He noted that in addition to the five graduates working at Omaha Standard's east plant, five other former students are employed at two separate company facilities in Council Bluffs.

Former ISD students are also filling positions as metal workers in a Lozier plant in Omaha, and graduates have worked as well at Arnold Tool and Die in Council Bluffs.

In classes at the school, "we do a lot of machining and computer drafting using AutoCAD," Schulze said, referring to a software-based design system.

For more advanced students, he said, "we cover computer machining on the lathe and milling machine.

School officials, he added, want to implement a link between AutoCAD and computer-controlled machines that would allow a drawing to be interpreted by the equipment instead of by an operator.

"This is an industry standard, especially in large-scale manufacturing," Schulze said.

He said he attributed the success ISD graduates have had in job situations to the fact that in manufacturing settings there is a "need for blueprints and working drawings, as opposed to verbal instructions. This works out great if you are deaf and can read the drawings, and have the fabricating skills."

ISD students, Schulze said, often have career aspirations that extend beyond positions related to the training they receive in metals technology classes.

"I try to convince them to try my classes as a backup to their plans," he said. "Based on what I've observed, this has been good insurance for them as the majority of the graduates who are successfully working are working in manufacturing."

To expand the course options for ISD students, the school and the Lewis Central district have formed a partnership.

Metals technology, autobody and power technology classes at ISD are open to Lewis Central students, while ISD students can take a number of classes at Lewis Central that are not offered at their own school.

©Daily Nonpareil 2004