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January 31, 2024

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I can’t recommend Incumbent Worker Training (IWT) enough to help make your employees’ lives and business better

John Hornbrook, Chief Operating Officer, MRI Audio

Twelve years ago, Spencer Howe founded MRIaudio out of his parent’s garage after identifying a gap in the healthcare experience, providing much-needed relief to kids and adults going through the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) process, by providing audio and visual devices to make the experience less stressful and more comfortable. Early on in starting his business, Spencer gave himself the space and permission to take educated risks, pivoting as needed when his plans didn’t work out. “My confidence to start a business was arguably more valuable than my college education,” Spencer jokes. Over the years, Spencer’s belief that you must invest in yourself—and your employees—as much as you do your company, has been a massive driver in MRIaudio’s success and underpins the company’s core values.  

In the entrance of MRIaudio’s offices hangs a placard celebrating their core values: win/win, positivity, simplicity and teamwork. Pointing to the values, MRIaudio Founder and CEO Spencer Howe says, “Our core values inform every decision we make and the culture that we create.” 

Incumbent Worker Training: upskilling employees and increasing ROI

This attitude and business strategy was evidenced when the company was preparing for a new product launch. Spencer and John Hornbrook, MRIaudio’s Chief Operating Officer, seized an opportunity to upskill existing employees, rather than attempting to hire new ones to fill skill gaps in their current staff. They wanted to provide Lean 6 Sigma Training for their warehouse employees, training them in best practices for product rollout and management. However, the cost to pay for Lean 6 Sigma Training can be out of reach for most small businesses. 

“Our small business is a niche industry in the medical device field. Through the California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC) nonprofit, we learned about Incumbent Worker Training (IWT). IWT funding is the reason we were able to move forward with CMTC’s Lean 6 Sigma Training Initiative,“ explained John Hornbrook, Chief Operating Officer at MRI Audio.  

CMTC connected MRIaudio with the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s business engagement team, who helped John enroll his staff in the Lean 6 Sigma Training, with 87% of the cost covered through IWT funds. Once Spencer and John heard the opportunity/cost savings, it didn’t take much convincing to sign up. “The classroom and on-the-job training took place here a few days a week for 5–6 workers. We received a degree in lean methodology and then created our own solutions based on the training,” says John.  

Our core values inform every decision we make and the culture that we create

Spencer Howe, Founder and CEO, MRIaudio
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How values-driven decision making benefits employees and the employer

After completing the training, employees felt empowered and confident to make decisions to optimize workflows. Learning the Lean methods saved staff energy and stress, plus, they received pay raises and increased job security, leading to increased job satisfaction and a higher ROI on MRIaudio’s bottom line. “The warehouse is now able to fill up to 130 orders per month, whereas before we could barely do 80—we estimate our cost savings at about $160,000 per month! I can’t recommend IWT enough to help make your employees’ lives and business better,” John says.  

The total out-of-pocket cost for the Lean Training would have peaked around $67,000 but thanks to IWT, the cost was below $9,000 for their employees. While paying to upskill current employees comes with a cost, hiring new employees costs the employer substantially more, plus not offering professional development opportunities puts employers at risk to lose those with invaluable institutional knowledge. For a small business like MRIaudio—which has three full-time production staff—hiring new employees just didn’t make sense. Partnering with CMTC and the Workforce Partnership to cover the funds for the Lean Training was truly a “win-win” for MRIaudio—which is very much in line with the company’s core values. As Spencer noted, “finding the right the person is hard, so once we find our treasure, we want to polish it.” In thinking about the impact of the Lean 6 Sigma Training on staff, John reflects that “[the Lean 6 Sigma Training] will help you here, but this on your resume will set you apart from every other candidate.” 

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