Businesses find value in northwest Missouri lake training site

Friday, October 4, 2013 | 1:30 p.m. CDT

MARYVILLE — Most people probably associate MOERA, the Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area operated at Mozingo Lake by Northwest Missouri State University, with youth.

With its climbing wall, rope towers and other physical challenges, the facility is a magnet for students, Scout troops, athletics organizations and church groups.

But Mozingo isn't just for kids. In fact, the skills taught there — teamwork, leadership, problem solving, self-confidence and taking the initiative — are all attributes highly valued in the corporate workplace, The Maryville Daily Forum reported.

So it should come as no surprise that a growing number of companies, some as far away as Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., are using MOERA for employee development.

Local plants that send workers to the lake in order to climb, rappel, swing, suspend and balance include Nucor- LMP and Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp.

Late last month about a dozen Kawasaki employees braved a drizzling rain to run through a series of exercises that included strapping one employee into a basket stretcher, then working as a team to move the rig from one end of an obstacle course to the other.

What made the challenge interesting is that no one told them how to do it.

The group was simply handed a coil of climbing rope and told to work things out for themselves.

And that, said Senior Human Relations Supervisor Donell Anderson, is precisely the point.

Anderson said such activities help both Kawasaki management and the workers themselves identify and develop skill sets relating to initiative, safety, communication, cooperation and critical thinking that boost efficiency on the production floor.

"We get a lot of benefit from this to take back to the workplace," said Anderson, who added that about 300 Kawasaki employees have gone through training at Mozingo over the past seven years.

"We see, and I think (the employees) see a lot of personal growth. People often realize that they can do something that perhaps they didn't think they could do before."

In addition, said Anderson, a certain amount of bonding takes place while workers climb and crawl over the rope-and-timber structures, which helps put the exercises "back into the context of work."

People have to talk to each other, she said, and they have to listen, the lesson being that one never knows where the next good idea will come from. More than just a co-worker, the person next to you becomes a valuable resource for getting the job done as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

Exercises such as those offered at Mozingo can go a long way toward closing what Anderson described as a significant soft skills gap affecting manufacturing operations nationwide.

She explained that while most workers are quite good at running the machines and computers associated with specific production tasks, too many fall short when it comes to problem-solving, creative thinking and initiative.

MOERA, she said, offers lessons in both meeting new challenges and developing a "commitment to work" that can help bridge the soft-skills deficit.

John Gustafson, the university staffer who directs program at MOERA, said he sees a lot of potential for the facility, along with city-owned Mozingo Lake Recreation Park as a whole, in terms of providing training and recreation opportunities for corporate customers.

One drawback, however, is a lack of lodging facilities, and Gustafson said he believes development of a hotel at the lake, a possibility discussed extensively by city officials for more than two years, could dramatically increase MOERA's role as a corporate training ground.

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