Features, Manufacturer Focus

Transforming manufacturing

Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke with Jasmine Riddle from JRS Group to learn more about the company that has transformed itself into a beacon of modern manufacturing. 

JRS Group – better known previously as JRS Manufacturing Group – has recently undergone a rebranding to 

better capture the journey the company has been on and where it is today.  

The company now has three distinct sections: manufacturing, a newly formed aerospace division, and its skills academy – all designed and geared towards JRS’s overall goal of being a modern manufacturer. 

COO Jasmine Riddle explained the lofty goals the company has set for the coming years.

“The JRS Group of businesses is on the cusp of exciting and catalytic strategic industry growth within its manufacturing and aerospace production divisions,” Riddle said. 

“The global and domestic demand of our customers in METS, defence, aerospace, civil, and environmental markets is informing and evolving our investments, which will see the $4m expansion of our steel fabrication, CNC machining and industrial coating entity, with JRS Group maturing from a team of 24 to 100 over the next five years.” 

“The launch of JRS Aerospace Group will deliver Queensland’s first regional critical high value, high volume processing facility, through a investment in facilities, equipment, training and technology.”

“This will create a new range of jobs for the region in the coming years, in chemical processing, specialised coatings, laboratory technicians, engineering and testing services for fixed wing, rotary wing, space, weapons, hypersonic, testing, and supply chain validation, that is critical to the development of the aerospace industry,” Riddle said.

Inside JRS Group

To better understand JRS Group and what brought it to the current juncture, it is important to understand how its COO Jasmine Riddle came to the manufacturing industry. A company’s people are its most precious resource – and Riddle’s story is emblematic of the kind of values, interests, and culture common prevalent across the entire JRS Group team. 

“I joined the Navy as an opportunity to learn in a fast paced, real time environment that changed my thinking and personal skills.

“I learned very quickly that I am the type of person very comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“Being in the service was such a powerful and passionate tool for me. When I left and moved to Toowoomba where I owned and operated a  café with my mum, I knew that I was going to need more excitement than that.”

While in Toowoomba Riddle met her husband – a boilermaker by trade – and the pair set their sights on starting their own manufacturing company. 

“We had a vision to do bespoke manufacturing for customers who appreciated high quality manufactures and high value relationships and who wanted to go on a journey with us,” Riddle said.

“For us it was about building the best product possible for our customers so that they were positioned at the leading edge of their market, through prototyping, market testing and commercial and production models” she added.

Partnership-based relationships are a large part of what drives Riddle and her husband. But, at a more visceral level, she is equally inspired by on-the-ground work and the practicalities of the manufacturing process. 

“I just love the smell of ground steel, it reminds me of a warship,” she chuckled.

JRS Skills Academy

The JRS Group established the JRS Skills Academy to take on the task of upskilling and championing skills development, building programs that would deliver wise, decisive leaders for industry’s future and create a business incentivised model of training that would drive greater investment and higher performance outcomes for individuals and industry more broadly. 

The JRS Skills Academy, a standalone entity, has a formal approach with the sole purpose to grow, sustain, and lead training culture. The goal is to ensure all personnel, regardless of their position, are aware of their career opportunities and to help them be achieved in a way that gives them additional skills – enabling lateral and vertical integration into business operations, not just within the JRS Group but in the broader industry, too. 

Through the network of local and state manufacturing alliances, industry reference groups, peak bodies, RTO, VET & tertiary institutions, and the local DYJESBT team, the JRS Skills Academy is able to extract and collate data that drives the development and strategy behind the future of skills at JRS Group and industry. 

These relationships are used as a dual conduit with a feedback loop back into industry and institutions to share insights and solutions to challenges.

Riddle explained why the Skills Academy was started and what its broader goals will be for JRS and the wider manufacturing sector.

“The academy was developed to create industry led training, skilling, and engagement programs that are dynamic, future focussed, and designed to enable confidence in young people and job seekers,” she said. Our initiatives have created over 200 hands on engagements for young people, job seekers, veterans, educators and employment services. 

“We found that there was often a mismatch between expectations of how training was meant to work and the skills it actually equipped people with when they arrived to work at a manufacturer.

“We recognised that the next generation is looking for something different, varied and profound, from their working life and we had to be ready to connect with that to keep them in our industry.”

JRS Group has created the Skills Academy to ensure the people coming into industry are getting a real insight into what manufacturing could be moving forward. The Skills Academy is an exciting development and a test run for the manufacturing industry; Riddle believes it could be the first of its kind in Australia.

“Other people have created equivalent skills academies before to train their own workforce, but the JRS Skills Academy has been set up to repeat and scale what we have achieved and share it with the industry, to accelerate and maximise benefits. 

“Oftentimes, even after training their skills meet only the bare minimum. That is not the businesses’ fault, they are restricted by challenging economic and commercial relations of industry, but it is not sustainable in the long run and the industry suffers for it.

“So, this is what the JRS skills academy was all about: it was finding a way to incentivise the training to make it more affordable for businesses and to ensure that what is being trained is tech savvy and future focused.”

The team in the JRS Skills Academy has access to onsite training rooms and computer labs and are able to schedule their training hours during the working week with their mentors, allowing flexibility to the business and the individual, depending on training workload and the demands of day-to-day operations. 

Capturing compliance data for on-the-job training has led to new insights into how unique training is undertaken and will inform the Skills Academy’s next projects as it seeks to identify a modern business incentivised approach to verifying training and reducing waste.

Training and skilling will go beyond budgets and targets. At JRS Group the development of the Skills Academy has created an ecosystem of skilling and training where every team member knows and understands their responsibility to mentor, to communicate changes, to empower each other, and feed information to inform strategy moving forward.

Training for the future

The JRS Skills Academy’s approach is to not simply train for the here and now, but train for the future and what manufacturing might look like. 

“We are future focused,” Riddle stated. “We want to have a sustainable workforce ready to take on our nations big projects.. A traditional apprenticeship takes four years, we are challenging that, so people are walking out better prepared and ready to apply proactive thinking and practices.

“Young people do not want to be defined by one thing, we need to find a way to give the unique individual value – value that adds to the individual’s personal worth as well as to the organisation.” 

Current training programs, Riddle added, are too antiquated and rigid to suit the needs of the modern manufacturing industry. 

While manufacturing is currently benefiting from increased focus from governments and growing as a result, the sector is still held back by the legacy of 30 challenging years and a culture that, as a result, disincentivised manufacturers from training the next generation. 

“While industry continues to inform the evolution of our understanding of what is needed, the JRS Skills Academy is also tuned-in to the next generation of industry by way of our outward facing activities,” Riddle said. 

“One thing we recognised early on was the need to ensure that training was delivered in a high-quality manner, otherwise the end result would be a workforce who are disengaged, lack confidence to innovate and are unable to lead our future industry.

“Then you find they will leave unsatisfied, and they won’t come back to our industry, and we lose every single dollar we put into them as well as the opportunity to build a sovereign capability for the nation.” 

Riddle went on to explain how the certificate three works at the JRS Skills Academy. The organisation has taken an autonomous approach to the engineering certificate three and created a multi-disciplined and multifaceted experience.

When someone leaves the Skills Academy, the aim is that they can have four separate qualifications effectively, making them a greater asset either at JRS or working for another organisation.

“The idea is that they have those four qualifications when they leave, and they can move laterally within the industry and flourish in manufacturing.

“If industry changes in the next 20 years, they are not restricted by what they’ve learnt – they will have been equipped with a multifaceted skillset such that they’ll remain employable and bring incredible value to industry long after they leave the Skills Academy.” 

New facility

The Skills Academy is not the only exciting development for Riddle and the team at JRS, with the company recently expanding its site at Wellcamp in Queensland.

The Wellcamp facility has upgraded its CNC capabilities and added extra additive manufacturing facilities on site. This facility will be used to house that new equipment and is expected to be a consistently evolving part of JRS Group that houses new technology as it becomes available.

Riddle went on to explain the finer details of how the facility will be used.

“The facility at Wellcamp will allow us to bring the Skills Academy in and to work on state-of-the-art equipment, teach a range of skills, enable further community connection and further the variety of engagement opportunities,” she said.

The Wellcamp facility will also be the site of JRS’s aerospace division which will include chemical treatment and surface finishing on aerospace parts. This facility will house a research and development, laboratory and bespoke testing facility which will be important for further developing the aerospace supply chain in Queensland with a range of stakeholders.

“These facilities are all a physical descriptor of what we are trying to do with the Skills Academy, they are multi-disciplined and highly diverse,” Riddle explained.

The future

JRS Group is taking an opportunity to capitalise on government investment in the aerospace industry to grow the company.

Twenty-four Queensland businesses are sharing in more than $420,000 from Round 3 of the $1.5 million Defence and Aerospace Industry Development Fund (DAIDF) in which JRS group has received $30,000 for its development.

Riddle emphasises that JRS is taking a proactive approach to improving aerospace manufacturing in Australia.

“There is an opportunity to reshore and onshore global supply chain work in every manufacturing sector,” she said.

“There are not many facilities in Australia undertaking this type of qualified work and so by doing this the supply chain around us has the ability to expand more work opportunities can be undertaken and greater development of Australian IP.” 

The strategy for JRS is to bring even greater thinking to Australia for the creation of new ideas, new IP, and new innovations. The company aspires to become an end-to-end manufacturer – from research through to completion of new products.

For Riddle, her experience and career feed directly into her ambitions for developing JRS Group and the manufacturing industry in general. 

“I’m very frank with our team in drawing on my experiences working in defence,” she said. “It’s important to demonstrate to people just how critical it is that when you’re on the front line, on an operation, or even just in military training, that you have high quality items that work, are reliable and can be replaced or acquired at moment’s notice. i think this translates into any of our incredible customers, Defence or civilian.”

“What we are making here in our workshop really matters. We must make sure we deliver high quality, take pride in what we craft, and be ready for our next generation. That is what manufacturing should be all about.” 

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