Protoplast's focus on workers makes it a winner

Published: March 4, 2014 1:44 pm ET
Updated: March 4, 2014 2:00 pm ET

Image By: Don Loepp Cathy Rolph, vice president of finance and administration for Protoplast Inc. and Andy Rolph, president.

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Topics Injection Molding, Awards, Plastics News Executive Forum, Processor of the Year

Plastics News has named Protoplast Inc. as the winner of its PN Excellence Award for employee relations.

The custom injection molder in Cobourg, Ontario, was also a finalist for PN's Processor of the Year.

Other Excellence Awards went to DLH Industries Inc. for customer relations and 20/20 Custom Molded Plastics Ltd. for industry and public service.

The judges, who are Plastics News reporters and editors, evaluated PN Excellence Award candidates on those three criteria — customer relations, employee relations and industry and public service — which are three of the seven used to determine the overall Processor of the Year Award.

Plastics News honored the winners Feb. 25, during the newspaper's Executive Forum in Tampa, Fla. The processor of the Year also was named at the event: Tech Molded Plastics Inc. of Meadville, Pa.

Protoplast is a small family-run molder in Cobourg, Ontario, owned by Andy and Cathy Rolph, a husband-and-wife team. With just 80 employees, Cathy handles the human resources side.

Her realization: When you have a good employee, tailor the job to fit the person's skills whenever possible, instead of adhering to a rigid "job description." And she is not afraid to let people who show initiative try another type of job.

For example, consider Patricia Hart, who coordinated Protoplast's submission for the Processor of the Year Award. Hart is manager of inside sales and purchasing. She started out as the receptionist. And Hart did a good job guiding the award effort: Protoplast was one of three finalists for the Processor of the Year Award.

As the company emerged from the recession, management realized there would be a shortage of skilled labor, especially in the areas of machine setup and processing. Protoplast worked with Routsis Training to create an interactive training program suited for all employees: press operators, assemblers, quality managers, toolmakers, engineers as well as those in processing and management.

Then they started a training program, set up like an apprenticeship program (though it is not recognized by the government). It's led by Todd Tracey, CEO of operations.

The first apprentice, Blaine McCormack, started in March 2013 at Protoplast. He had been a maintenance millwright at another company. McCormack began as a material handler. Now he is learning to be a process technician.

With $11.7 million in 2013 sales and 16 injection presses, the company does lots of shorter-run molding, and — as the name suggests — does prototyping. That means Protoplast has to have an agile workforce. The parts can be technically challenging automotive parts such as air ducts, constant velocity joint boots and parts to protect suspension and under-the-hood components; or industrial, electronics, consumer or medical biotech. The company got into injection blow molding and now is moving into injection transfer blow molding.

Another employee, quality manager Melissa Baker, started out as a machine operator a dozen years ago and moved up. She wanted to go to night school, a move Cathy Rolph supported. The company paid for it.

The second-generation owners recognize the importance of work-life balance. When Patricia Hart's father was in intensive care at a hospital an hour-and-a-half away, the Rolphs let her take as much time as she needed away from work. They hired additional personnel and gave her a company cell phone and laptop. Her father spent about a month at the hospital before he died.

"They gave me a means of keeping in touch, without feeling as though I needed to physically be here; allowing me at least one area where I finally felt I had some control," she wrote in the submission.

The feeling extends through the entire company, which has a social committee, she said: "Literally tens of thousands of dollars have been raised (and matched by Protoplast) for employees dealing with medical expenses due to serious illnesses or for those who were coping with the loss of a loved one," she wrote.

Check out the video profile, below, of Protoplast as one of our Processor Of The Year finalists.


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Protoplast's focus on workers makes it a winner

Published: March 4, 2014 1:44 pm ET
Updated: March 4, 2014 2:00 pm ET

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