National Manufacturing Month begins
TLX Technologies hosts tours for over 300 students

By Alison Fox - Freeman Staff

Oct. 2, 2014

 Don Kincade, a development engineer at TLX Technologies, explains his testing lab where the company’s products are tested under adverse conditions. Solenoids are subjected to extreme heat and cold, humidity and corrosive materials while being run to ensure they will survive their planned lifespan. Many of the company’s products are used in cars and will be expected to last for 10-20 years.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

PEWAUKEE - October is National Manufacturing Month, and TLX Technologies in Pewaukee celebrated by opening its doors on Wednesday to over 300 Southeastern Wisconsin high school students.

Company employers spent the day talking with students about the wide range of careers TLX Technologies - and the manufacturing field in general - has to offer. The students also toured the facility and were able to experience first-hand how working in a manufacturing environment would feel.

This is TLX Technologies’ third year hosting the tour, and Neil Karolek, the company’s president, said its point is to open students’ eyes to the options available to them.

“We invite the students here so they can get a better understanding of what manufacturing is all about,” he said. “If a half-dozen students come out of here saying they would be interested in potentially working in this field, I would be happy.”

Karolek said there is a stigma attached to the manufacturing industry because people often think of manufacturing buildings being “oil-filled and rat-infested” where people are mindlessly sitting and putting parts together.

 Don Kincade, development engineer at TLX Technologies, opens the door of a test chamber where solenoids are run in extremely humid conditions to ensure long-term reliability.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“This is not true at all,” he said. “There are so many different things someone can do just within this one building. From start to finish, there is the product design on the computer, then the prototype design, then it meets production, and it all gets shipped out. We cover a range of stuff, a lot of ground.”

TLX Technologies designs and produces solenoids - a current-carrying coil that acts like a magnet when a current passes through - for a variety of markets, including the automotive industry.

Karolek said the company started very small in the early 2000s, has since boomed and is always struggling to fill technician and engineer positions.

 Neil Karolek, president of TLX Technologies, explains the use of solenoids in a automated nozzle designed for oil change shops programmed to dispense a set amount of oil into a car.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

TLX Technologies is not the only company that has experienced growth. There is an extremely high demand for employees in general when it comes to manufacturing and skilled trades, and Karolek said it’s important for high school students to be aware of this.

Along with TLX Technologies, many local companies will be working with schools and organizations throughout National Manufacturing Month to help raise student awareness of their field and its high demand.  Friday will be the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s “Manufacturing Day,” where Waukesha County middle-school students will tour manufacturers, including Weldall and Dedicated Computing.


Above-average pay

“Many people within the industry are getting paid, well, well, well above average,” Karolek said. “And the students are seeing that there’s something more than an assembly line to these jobs.  I’m not saying that it’s for everyone, but the point is that if you don’t expose people to it, they will never know.”

Between 2011 and 2013, the number of people employed in private sector manufacturing in Waukesha County has grown by over 1,000 to 43,617, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. The average annual wages for manufacturing in the county have gone from $58,554 in 2011 to $61,527 in 2013, outpacing inflation.

 Neil Karolek, president of TLX Technologies, explains the use of solenoids in a automated nozzle designed for oil change shops programmed to dispense a set amount of oil into a car.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Alana Lamboy, a TLX Technologies employee, said she started working for the company part-time in 2004 on the production line.

“I was also working for UPS at the time,” she said. “Then I stopped working there and started working full-time here.”

Lamboy has since worked her way up and is now a engineer technician for the company. She is also going to school part-time at Waukesha County Technical College to get a degree in mechanical engineering.

Lamboy said many students believe that a four-year college is their only option right out of high school. She said it’s important for students to know there are many different educational paths and options.

“Working in the field gave me the confidence to go back to school for engineering later in life because I knew it was what I loved and wanted to do,” she said.

She said she would love to see more women getting involved in the field.

“I like to call women in the field ‘unicorns’ because they don’t exist,” she said.

Throughout the tour, students saw the design, production and testing of the company’s products. They talked with employees about what a typical day on the job entails.

“One of the things we talk about with the students is basic working skills like showing up to work on time,” Karolek said. “If we can find the right people with the right work ethic, we can train them to be successful.”

Karolek and Lamboy both said they would love to invite parents along on future student tours. They said it would be a great way for parents to see that a trade skills career is a great option for their kids.

“A student can go home and tell their parents that this is something they would be really interested in,” Karolek said. “And they say ‘No way, you’re going to a four-year college to be an accountant.’

“I would love for the parents to come and see everything that we do here. I’d even be willing to come in on a Saturday and bring pizza.”