Injection molder's job-shadowing program builds cohesiveness, trust

Jan. 26, 2023
Bruin Manufacturing's program lets workers break down walls between departments.

By Karen Hanna 

Work anywhere long enough, and you’ll start to wonder: What is it that the other departments do? 

One injection molding plant is working to dispel that mystery by building bridges with a program that lets employees observe colleagues tasked with other roles. It’s just the latest in a host of efforts by Bruin Manufacturing geared toward building cohesiveness and morale, at a time when other manufacturers continue to struggle to hire and retain workers 

With about 53 people split between its Marshalltown headquarters and a facility about 30 miles away in Newton, Iowa-based Bruin is thriving, according to Kate Bowermaster, marketing/culture coordinator. Workers say its initiatives — including the job-shadowing program, employee get-togethers and a schedule that provides half-days off on Fridays — contribute to a winning culture at a company that truly cares about its people. 

“We treat everyone as if they were family. We joke with each other. We have a very open relationship. If you have issues, you can come talk to just about anybody here, and they will welcome you with open arms,” said Aly Wickam, who has worked for the company since late January 2021. 

As of mid-January 2023, Wickam was one of more than a dozen to take part in Bruin’s job-shadowing program, which allows any worker to request a 1- or 2-hour slot to observe operations in another department, as production allows. So far, the company has granted the requests of 16 people, who have shadowed 21 different jobs.  

“Things got busy, and we still have plenty more shadowing to do, so it will happen as time allows. Ongoing forever!” Bowermaster wrote in an email. 

A shipping clerk, Wickam chose to shadow Bowermaster in the marketing department, as well as colleagues in the quality-control department. Another worker, production setup technician Mark Krough, who has been with Bruin nearly three years, opted to spend time in the tool room.  

“Understanding a little bit more of how the mold actually works, it’s still speculation without opening up the mold, but it gives you a better idea for troubleshooting the heart of the problem, if you have bad parts. It can also help you determine whether it’s a mold issue or a machine issue, or potentially material issue,” said Krough, in explaining why he chose to learn more about
the tool room’s operations. “It can help cut down on time to get the parts corrected and continue with production. I still obviously don’t know a whole lot about it, but it does help.”

While some companies are focused on cross-training their employees, Bowermaster said that wasn’t what she had in mind when she created the initiative in August 2022. Instead, she wants Bruin’s employees to gain an appreciation for how the company’s various departments mesh to produce quality parts for customers in the consumer goods, recreation, agricultural and health-care industries. 

“They’ve been enlightened to see what each person does because, although we know so-and-so works in the tool room and they build a mold, we don’t really know what that means, unless we go watch it,” Bowermaster said. “It helps [address] their curiosity; it’s helped answer questions that they have. They can understand the process a little bit more. … Employees have mentioned also just gaining more respect for the job functions that they shadowed.” 

That’s been the case for Wickam, who said seeing the quality-control department in action has helped inform her own tasks in shipping. 

“It’s been very eye-opening as far as seeing how the different departments of Bruin come together to be able to get a part from even before it is quoted here all the way to out the door,” Wickam said. “I really feel that this job-shadowing program that we have is helping everyone to understand how everything comes together, how all of the departments are important; there isn’t one that’s more important than the other.” 

Wickam said though the job-shadowing program isn’t designed to help workers find new career paths, she would be interested in gaining experience in other departments — if only there were enough time.  

“If I could do all of them, I absolutely would,” she said. 

There’s another problem, too, observed Krough: People at Bruin are in no hurry to vacate their positions. 

At a company that regularly celebrates its workers with luncheons, dinners, golf outings, raffles and other activities, Krough said turnover is rare. 

“Aside from all the activities we do and prizes and games and everything we do, we get good people here, and that alone makes it a great place to work,” Krough said. 

Wickam agreed.  

The job-shadowing program — designed to enhance communication — is just another reflection of the company’s cohesiveness. 

“We're just all very like-minded people. We’re all very comfortable coming to each other, and it’s an awesome work environment,” Wickam said. 

Soon, Bruin will welcome yet another person to its culture. On Jan. 4, it posted an opening on Facebook for an entry-level position in its secondary operation department. By about noon the next day, Bowermaster said, it had already generated 29 likes, 80 shares and more than 20 applications, with a mid-January tally topping 30 applications.  

Karen Hanna, senior staff reporter

[email protected]

Contact: Bruin Manufacturing,

Marshalltown, Iowa, 641-752-7116,