Forming Careers: What began as a high school internship has turned into a years-long profession

Nathan Ostroski grew up alongside Vantage Plastics.

In 2006, Paul Aultman founded Vantage Plastics, which specializes in plastics thermoforming. Since then, the company has expanded several times as it works in more than a dozen industries from automotive to military to consumer products.

Through the years and the expansions, Vantage Plastics kept its headquarters in Standish.

While Aultman was working to grow his company, Ostroski was enrolling in the Engineering & Drafting program at the Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center. The program offered both classroom learning and work experience, which was exactly what he wanted.

“It’s a two-year program, really nice curriculum, lots of hands-on experience in working with different software programs and things like that. And real-world application, too. Sometimes you work with actual companies on projects.”

Through the Career Center, Ostroski competed in Skills USA. He highly recommends participation in student clubs for a hands-on learning experience with real-world applications.

As a high school student, Ostroski found a job at Vantage Plastics. Today, he's about to celebrate 16 years working at the growing firm based in Standish. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Ostroski)Even with the Skills USA experience, Ostroski thought he needed more hands-on learning before graduating from Standish-Sterling High School in 2008. He asked his adviser, Eric Stasser, about securing an internship during his senior year.

Shortly after he requested it, an internship opportunity with Vantage Plastics came along.

At Vantage, Ostroski performed miscellaneous tasks and CAD (computer-aided design) work. (If you’ve ever bought one of those blue, plastic kiddie pools, you’ve likely seen a product made by Vantage Plastics.)

“I worked on the production floor to familiarize myself with how we run parts and how we assemble things here in the factory,” Ostroski says.

“So, I did a lot of odds and ends and then ended up training myself in design work. And really, just a few weeks after training on the designing, I was contributing to the design team while I was still in high school.”

When he was offered a full-time position in roduct design after graduation, Ostroski gladly accepted. Today, the Sterling native is a Product Designer. He says he has enjoyed his time at Vantage and celebrates his 16th “workiversary” on Nov. 5.

Ostroski and his team try to differentiate themselves from competitors by focusing on solving customer problems.

“When a customer has a problem that they’d like to solve, I like to be able to propose them a solution that they expect and then propose one solution that they hadn’t even thought of before. And really get them excited about moving forward with us.”

Ostroski is a true advocate for the company. He’s quick to explain the core values of the organization such as emphasizing the importance of having servant hearts; staying humbly confident; conducting all actions with integrity; and pursuing opportunities that drive them forward.

“These core values are something that Paul and we as a whole company strive to imbue in everyone that joins the team. So, we have a really good company culture here.”

Ostroski says he got hands-on experience at the Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center, through Skills USA, and as a high school intern at Vantage Plastics. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Ostroski)Vantage Plastics is just as happy with Ostroski as he is with them.

Roy Lucynski, Engineering Manager at the Wilder Road facility, spoke highly about Ostroski and his skills.

“Nathan single-handedly takes each designer under his wing to help grow them in their field,” Lucynski says. “Nathan has gone outside his usual role and has suggested products to customers that have been instrumental in directly impacting the growth of Vantage Plastics.”

Earlier this year, Vantage Plastics announced it was growing with the purchase of a 325,000-square-foot building in Bangor Township.  (Read about Vantage Plastics growing into Bay County in this Aug. 10, 2023 Route Bay City article.)

Ostroski explained the opportunity that this expansion offers.

At the Standish headquarters, the focus remains on custom solutions, while the facility in Bangor Township will eventually be the location for most of its large-scale runs.

“We have access to a railroad spur there, so it’s a game changing thing for us as a company. It’s really going to make us more attractive to customers. If something happens to one facility, we can pick up the slack at the other one.”

And growth of the business is not the Aultman family’s only focus.

Their mission statement is “Forming solutions, forming better lives, and forming sustainable futures.”

Forming better lives means more than just providing jobs. According to the Vantage Plastics website, Aultman and his wife, Michelle, formed The Well Outreach, a nonprofit organization, in 2010. The Well Outreach focuses on improving the well-being of the community and local families by empowering folks to live up to their true potential.

For at least the Ostroskis, the effort is working.

Ostroski lives with his wife and two children in Standish. The family considered moving outside the mid-Michigan area in the past, but their family connections, community, and work culture convinced them to stay. They built a house just down the road from their high school, with no plans to leave any time soon.
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