Oldsmar manufacturer finds success by filling jobs with vets, students, people with disabilities

When Oldsmar manufacturing company QTM was having trouble finding qualified new employees a few years back, owner Dick Peck decided to get creative. His welding and machining business was growing, and Peck needed to increase his work force. 

While giving a guest lecture to students in the USF engineering program back in 2010,  the light bulb went off.

“I noticed that nearly all of the engineering students had never actually been in a manufacturing plant and didn’t know anything about manufacturing,” says Peck. “Yet 70 percent of mechanical engineering jobs are in manufacturing.”

That’s when the idea of implementing his own internship program began to take shape. Why not hire students to work at QTM? In addition to filling the demand for workers, it would also provide students the opportunity to learn about the industry while gaining the experience they needed to land a solid job after graduation.

“I tell them when I hire them, ‘You’re not here for a job – you’re here to get experience,’ ” says Peck, who pays his interns a starting wage of $10 an hour.

The program soon became a success, with interns going on to secure leadership positions at GE and other major companies. Peck says the key to their success was that their resumes stood out with robust, real-world engineering experience in manufacturing. Another perk? Peck’s business was stocked with high-quality workers.
“I’ve been here for two years and do everything from project management to design to assembly to installation,” says Joseph McKinney, 28, who graduated last year from USF with a degree in mechanical engineering. “I’d like to eventually own my own business, and this is definitely preparing me.”

Hiring valuable people

Since its inception, QTM’s internship program has attracted students from USF, St. Petersburg College and more.

The program’s success got Peck thinking about other out-of-the-box ways to increase his work force with valuable people. It was when he came across a disabled engineering student in a wheelchair at USF that he got the idea to extend opportunities to people with disabilities.

“I thought there were probably people with disabilities out there who had great ideas and a lot to contribute, but they simply weren’t in the work force,” says Peck.

In the 25 years that QTM has been in business, Peck had never had a disabled person come in and apply for a job.

Peck went on to hire that disabled engineering student back in 2012. Since then, he’s had other wheelchair-bound workers, whom Peck easily accommodates. Their work tasks include everything from drafting to designing to mail sorting. For Peck, it’s been all about adapting to the needs of his individual workers – disabled or not.

“To some extent, we all have disabilities,” he says. “It’s just about working around them and figuring out how to be a productive worker.”

For Peck, deciding who to hire comes down to finding people with character. Those who stand out to him are people who are enthusiastic, hard working and thirsty to learn. He encourages all his workers to take steps to better themselves, whether it’s through earning a GED or taking college classes at night. 

He currently opens his doors to veterans, people with disabilities, students and anybody else who’s willing and able to work. The truth is that Peck finds these labels irrelevant. He’s more concerned with teaching his workers as much as he can about the manufacturing business.

“Once you stop learning, it’s time for you to move on,” says Peck.

Taking a chance

Two years ago, a man named Carlos Betts came into QTM looking for a welding position. But after Betts, 45, failed his welding test, he thanked Peck for the opportunity and was ready to call it quits. Instead of leaving it at that, Peck (who personifies the idea of tough love) essentially told Betts to quit wallowing and to come back to QTM the next day ready to learn.

Today, Betts is QTM’s second lead welder.

“Dick gave me a chance when nobody else would,” says Betts. “He’s just a good guy.”

Peck, who’s also a Vietnam veteran, currently employs roughly 30 people. According to him, they’re all working hard and having a great time doing it. Playful teasing, back-slapping and hearty laughter are part of the day to day family-like environment at QTM.

Indeed, if you drop by their Oldsmar headquarters, you’ll likely run into Peck’s wife behind the reception desk. His grandchildren are also regular fixtures around the office.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.