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Is your company the best place to be?

By: Robert Grace

August 9, 2013

Why hide your light under a bushel? Most of us are proud of working in the plastics industry — America's third-largest manufacturing sector.

If you're reading this, then I don't need to tell you how plastics lubricates the gears of much of our country's vital manufacturing, from automotive and construction to packaging and medical, and so much more. Plastics save lives in health care, make our transportation vehicles lighter and more fuel-efficient, our homes and offices more comfortable, our foods fresher and safer, and they help to put powerful yet stylish computers in our hands in the form of smartphones, tablets and the like.

The industry has transformed into a high-tech machine, employing the latest computer, design, materials, tooling and processing technology to make amazing products — quickly, safely, precisely and cost effectively.

Data from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. pegged total U.S. plastics manufacturing employment at some 885,000 people in 2011 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). California alone had nearly 75,000 plastics employees that year, with Ohio, Texas and Michigan each checking in with more than 60,000. There is no arguing that plastics is an economic engine.

So why are most of us so shy? Drive by any number of industrial parks in the suburban U.S. that house several plastics-related companies — molders, extruders, compounders, recyclers, toolmakers and the like — and what do you see? For the most part, plain, unidentified, generic production boxes that provide no hint as to what goes on inside their walls. (Is plastics signage really too expensive?)

This industry does a lot of things well. Marketing itself is not one of them. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.

One extension of this poor branding is that it makes it only more difficult to attract bright, young talent into the industry. We've all heard about the manufacturing skills gap — you know, the one that has some 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs going unfilled in the U.S., despite high unemployment. Plastics News organized an entire Executive Forum around that and related topics in Tampa, Fla., this past March. (You can still see relevant print and video coverage from that event at www.plasticsnews.com/forum2013.)

The industry needs to address this issue one company at a time. So what can you do to move the ball forward?

• For starters, tell your good story. Stop being so secretive (or, in some cases, downright paranoid) about letting the world know what you do inside your factory walls.

• Be an active corporate citizen. We've highlighted some industry firms that excel at this with the Plastics News Excellence Award we give out at our annual Executive Forum.

• Strive to become an "employer of choice." And this is where we can help. If you are a plastics processor, plastics recycler, compounder, or mold and tooling maker with at least 15 employees in the U.S. or Canada, you can enter our new Best Places to Work in Plastics program.

Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Cos. Group, which oversees dozens of such programs across North America and beyond, manages the program. BCG gathers all the information and does the judging using an extensive, proven set of criteria. It solicits employee and management input via separate surveys, which allows management to obtain the honest, anonymous feedback from their employees after the survey closes. Having a third party confidentially survey your workforce adds credibility and value to the results. And no one sees those results except your firm's senior management. Plus, it's free to enter!

Watch Plastics News for details about a free Aug. 19 webcast featuring BCG President Peter Burke, as he outlines the entry process and answers your questions. Enter before the Sept. 6 deadline at www.bestplacestoworkplastics.com and leverage the knowledge you gain from the program's results to benchmark yourself against other plastics companies in terms of how your staff feels about your company as a place to work.

Being named a Best Place to Work stimulates pride within your company, and gives you a significant marketing — and hiring — advantage in a competitive marketplace. It's time to drop the shy routine, and proudly fly your corporate flag. What do you have to lose — except unfilled skilled-job openings?

Grace is editorial director, associate publisher and editorial director of Plastics News.