Tool time

Jack Schron Jr. is the third generation to run metal tooling manufacturer Jergens Inc., and the industrial landscape had changed drastically from 1942, when Schron’s grandfather and father founded the firm.

In that time, manufacturers large and small have shut down. Plants and jobs have consolidated or moved out of Cleveland and then out of the United States.

This trend has resulted in a dwindling number of industrial apprenticeship and other educational programs, despite technological advances in manufacturing processes.

“Training is something that has fallen on hard times,” Schron says. “We felt if somebody doesn’t start training and educating the next generation of manufacturing, we’re not going to be a manufacturing country.”

So Schron combined the Old World concept of apprenticeship programs with Internet technology to create Tooling University Ltd., an online education system that provides manufacturing classes and lessons on a variety of subjects.

The program was launched in spring 2001 and today offers 35 classes; another 30 are waiting to be added. Schron’s goal is to have 120 to 150 classes running. Students can take classes from a home PC or at their workstation during a long manufacturing run. Most courses take less than an hour.

Students can also take classes on a handheld computer with Internet access and upload tests and quizzes into their home computer. Instruction is delivered through text as well as full-motion video and graphics. And Jergens has partnered with several industry magazines to provide other educational content for its Tooling University.

Schron says one of Tooling University’s largest benefits is that instruction is available 24 hours a day.

“People don’t have to go traveling half way across the country to get training,” Schron says. “There’s no disruption to your work force or work schedules.”

Schron’s ability to solve a lingering problem in his industry using technology earned him and Tooling University a 2002 eVolution in Manufacturing award.

The program started with the idea to train people just to use Jergens’ products. But during Schron’s research, colleagues encouraged him to include courses for the whole industrial sector on basic manufacturing issues such as how to use certain drills, how to sharpen cutting equipment, how to tell the differences in materials and how to read blueprints.

The response was better than expected — between 300 to 600 visitors log on each day.

“The need to have manufacturing and industrial skills is as strong today as it was before,” Schron says.

An international electrical company with a Cleveland facility enrolled a group of its workers and set up a separate classroom in its plant for Tooling University instruction. The company is slated to buy a 1000-seat license for its workers. Cuyahoga Community College and The Society of Manufacturing Engineers also buy licenses.

While noble in its intentions, Schron didn’t want Tooling University to drain Jergens’ budget. The site charges a subscription fee for classes starting at $399 for a year, which includes hundreds of hours of instruction.

“We wanted it to be a business model that worked,” Schron says.

He says the Internet classes only cost about 25 to 30 percent of what in-person class instruction costs, and “there’s a very high retention rate because the student comes in and they move at their own pace.” How to reach: Jergens Inc./Tooling University Ltd., (216) 486-2100 or