Investing in People: The Backbone of Our Manufacturing Success

Written By Mike Hagen, CEO of American Structures & Design

Mike Hagen, CEO of American Structures and Design poses for a photo with his seven AJAC graduating apprentices.

Why We Bet on Apprenticeships – And Why You Should Too

Mike Hagen (pictured above with his seven graduating apprentices) is the CEO at American Structures & Design (AS&D) in Sumner, Washington. AS&D began working with AJAC in March 2014 and has enrolled apprentices in five different occupations since then. Mike is a member of AJAC’s Executive Board. 



American Structures & Design, Inc. manufactures and distributes aluminum balcony and railing products out of our Sumner, WA and Portland, OR facilities. Our company’s owner, Mark Weissenbuehler, started the business in his garage and we’ve since grown to 50 employees in multiple locations. We serve the commercial, multi-family, and residential construction industries and ship our architectural products around North America.

We’ve partnered with AJAC for many years, and I’d estimate that we’ve had approximately 40 employees go through one of the numerous AJAC apprenticeship programs during that timeframe. Our apprentices have participated in several AJAC programs ranging from machining to CNC programming, to operations specialists, to the AJAC pre-apprenticeship program called Manufacturing Academy, to the AJAC youth apprenticeship program for high school students.

My background is mechanical engineering and manufacturing and I’ve personally gone through each course’s syllabus. I can honestly say that the content of the AJAC courses covers exactly what we need as a manufacturing company. I’ve told all my employees these programs will serve as feathers in their caps whether they stay on with our company or move on to other organizations.

The best thing about the AJAC courses is that they are actionable. Everything the students learn in class is applicable to the workplace. Whether it is around tolerances, technical drawings, or project management, the skills they learn can be applied the next day to our work environment.

Apprenticeships are important to our company, and we have always prioritized being a company that invests deeply in the next generation. We’ve built our success on training new people in the industry because we know that not a lot of people have the specific skillsets we need for our company. Rather than complain about not being able to find skilled workers, we’ve decided to be a part of the solution and skill up the next generation.

I’m open to training new workers as long as they have a can-do attitude and a mindset of continuous learning. AJAC plays an important role for us as we fully use their technical programs to instill industry standards into our manufacturing workforce. We also encourage any of our existing employees who aren’t currently enrolled in an AJAC program to enroll.

I’ve been so impressed with AJAC that I decided to join the board of directors a couple of years ago. An organization like AJAC can only thrive if the businesses it endeavors to serve gives them good, honest, and direct feedback. That’s what I hope my participation accomplishes. It has been rewarding to work with the other members of the board to help lead AJAC into the next phase of its life. The program will continue to grow if other manufacturers like us can see the value in apprenticeships and are willing to spend the time to develop our workforce into great American workers.

Thank you, 

Mike Hagen


American Structures & Design