From Homeless to Happy: Robert Bjoraker’s Ascent at Wyoming Machine

Remember Robert Bjoraker—the husband and proud father whose family was homeless at one point? Wyoming Machine Inc. hired him as a part-time custodian three years ago. But Traci and Lori Tapani believe in employee growth, training and promoting from within. In fact, they’re now national leaders for that practice. As a result, Robert has advanced to the highly technical position of laser cutter.

Here’s how:

When Robert started as part-time custodian at WMI in 2013, he proved himself quickly. Adam Peterson, production manager, promoted him to full-time custodian and maintenance worker, and then some time in metal finishing. In 2015 Robert became a full-time metal finisher. There he learned what it takes to make great parts.

Traci saw Robert’s drive and recommended him for a laser cutting seminar. When a position opened, Robert was chosen. According to Traci:

“We’re committed to training because there’s so much untapped talent out there—people who are highly capable, but didn’t go to technical college. We look at the skills they’ve gained from whatever job they’ve had–attitude, dependability, ability to work with others–to name a few. We love taking people like that and watching them grow into challenging positions. It’s good for them, as well as us.”

Because of the Tapanis’ conviction, many in technical positions started in basic positions, acquired new skills and advance. As a result, these employees understand fabrication processes, the challenges and solutions. That big-picture knowledge along with a culture of camaraderie allow them to successfully train others.

Ron Farr, manufacturing engineer and 33-year employee, rose through the ranks and understands each process, from metal finishing and punching, to laser cutting and welding. Ron also helps Robert. “We’ve had other people start on laser without tech college degrees, so I know we can train them. Robert knows the importance of getting it right because he was a metal finisher. He always wants to improve.”

Scheduler and coordinator Greg Orvis is a 20-year metal industry veteran who also knows laser cutting. He had some doubts about how a former custodian would do as a laser cutter, but “Robert shut down those concerns immediately…he’s a very loyal and valuable employee.”

Robert says laser cutting presents daily learning opportunities. “Even weather affects how metals respond, so each day is different—even on the same job. I’m prepared to adjust any of many, many variables to get it right,” he said.

And what does a one-time homeless person say about his life now? “There’s a definite ‘spring’ in my step now. I don’t worry about feeding my kids anymore or where we’ll live. I’m incredibly grateful that the Tapani sisters gave me a chance. It’s turned my life around.”

Established in 1974, Wyoming Machine is a woman-owned family metal fabrication business. The longevity of our clients attests to our superior quality, efficiency, capabilities and customer service. We serve industry leaders with micro-to-large parts for medical equipment, retail store fixtures, heavy-duty machinery parts and much more. We truly enjoy serving clients and managing day-to-day operations with our 56 employees in a 55,000 sq. ft. facility based outside Minneapolis, Minn.

Traci and Lori Tapani, Sisters and Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine, Inc.


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