Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 10-11-2018

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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2 WOONSOCKET OCTOBER 11-17, 2018 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION The new face of manufacturing In Woonsocket, state-funded program trains a new generation of textile workers WOONSOCKET – Manufacturing has changed greatly in the years since the Blackstone Valley's indus- trial boom. Production has moved overseas, and many of the once-great mill complexes have become condos or abandoned structures as compa- nies look elsewhere to create their products. But at The Brickle Group, a Woonsocket-based textile manu- facturer that operates on Singleton Street, the tradition continues, adapt- ing to industry changes even as most of the company's peers have long since closed up shop. Max Brickle, president of The Brickle Group and the third genera- tion of family heads-of-operation, attributes the company's survival to its ability to diversify and expand operations over the years. Originally founded as H. Brickle and Son Inc. textile fiber recycling business, the company acquired Northwest Woolen Mills in 1968 and Bouckaert Industrial Textiles in 2000, expand- ing operations to include wool and non-woven textile production. Today, the company produces berets and Navy peacoats for the Department of Defense and supplies industrial products to companies like Aspen Aerogels even as it continues to sup- ply its own production lines with recycled fibers. "That's our big competitive advan- tage – we're fully vertical," Brickle said during a visit to the factory last week. When Hyman Brickle founded the original business in 1937, Woonsocket was still experiencing the effects of a wave of French- Canadian immigration that coincided with the city's industrial boom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today's workforce might not speak Quebec French on the factory floor, but the demographics, though different, bear an important similar- ity. According to Brickle, the compa- ny draws heavily from an immigrant workforce, some of whom arrive with limited English skills. "We always rely on a pretty large immigrant population, and the prob- lem now is the immigrant population is shrinking," he explained. That's not the only problem facing the expanding company. Like many manufacturers in Rhode Island, Brickle said the company has for several years struggled to find quali- fied candidates for its manufacturing positions. Part of that he attributes to changing ideas about manufacturing jobs and higher education, and part of it to a growing cohort of millenni- als who stay no longer than 12 to 24 months at one job before moving on to the next big thing. The company has begun recruiting candidates for internship programs from as far away as Clemson University and North Carolina State in order to fill its ranks with skilled workers. "I think it's lack of knowledge, but also a very tight labor market in the state," he said. Three years ago, The Brickle Group took matters into their own hands. Meeting with four other Rhode Island-based manufacturers, the companies agreed their main dif- ficulty was finding qualified workers and decided to be proactive about developing a skilled workforce in the region. The result was The Phoenix Partnership, a training program for newly hired and incumbent employ- ees that provides the skills they need to move up the manufacturing lad- der. The program is overseen by Polaris MEP, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the state's manufac- turing industry, and fully funded by the Department of Labor and Training through Real Jobs RI. Participants take classes through the Manufacturing Center of Excellence and through partnerships with New England Institute of Technology to grow their skills in manufacturing By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com BREEZE PHOTO BY LAUREN CLEM The Brickle Group employees, from left, SCARLETH SANCHEZ, YENIFER JOLON and ABIGAIL COLON make berets at The Brickle Group's Singleton Street produc- tion complex. See BRICKLE GROUP, Page 7

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