CLEVELAND - United Southern Industries Inc. used to have a pretty serious employee turnover problem.
Indeed, the large injection molder - with three plants and 325 employees - had seen the door spin like a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl since 1997. Annual turnover rates had climbed from 253 people that year to 471 workers leaving the company in 2000.
``Our turnover figures have been pretty atrocious,'' said Wayne Wilson, corporate director of safety and training for the Forest City, N.C.-based company. ``It had gotten out of control. We had to ensure that we turned out good quality products, and our turnover was not acceptable.''
Something had to be done. So the company spent $2.3 million last year to develop a new training program to help keep workers and give them a more regimented career path, Wilson said. Combined with monetary and other incentives, the program has helped employees foster a better attitude about work, he said.
This year, only 52 people have left United Southern. And the company expects to shrink that number even more through its instituted certification program from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., plus new mentoring opportunities.
``You can't gamble with resources, and people are your best resources,'' Wilson said. ``We've given them more active participation in the company and helped increase their self-satisfaction.''
Even with the economy dipping this year, work-force development remains a major issue - and a key source of headaches - for many molders and toolmakers. Several of them discussed their coping strategies June 21 during a work-force development panel at Plastics Encounter Cleveland.
``It always affects productivity, no matter what the economy is like,'' said William Saborsky, vice president of corporate human resources for Corry, Pa.-based Erie Plastics Corp. ``We'd still like to add good people.''
Saborsky's injection molding company, which has more than 450 workers at two plants, also has a singular problem. Its main location in Pennsylvania sits about 55 miles from a major city, making it difficult to recruit workers. ``You have to go over the mountains and through the woods to reach us,'' he said.
Like Wilson, Saborsky stressed career development for the diverse work force. The molder tapped state and local grant funds to help pay the costs of training, working through local skills centers to develop engineers. Curriculum at area colleges was developed around the needs of Erie's work force.
And the company started a leadership development program to allow senior workers to mentor others in how to manage a business, Saborsky said. Twenty-six people have gone through that process.
``When we tell recruits how we develop people, we have the wherewithal to back it up,'' Saborsky said. ``It makes recruiting a lot easier.''
Mold maker and molder Tech Mold Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., has gone down another path, starting a four-year apprenticeship program for its rawer recruits. Classroom work at area technical and community colleges is balanced by time spent on the shop floor with a mentor, said Karl Szanto, Tech Mold vice president of operations, at Plastics Encounter.
More than 60 experienced employees currently work with 11 apprentices, Szanto said. The result has been more efficient and punctual workers and wage increases for employees who prove their benefit to the company through training.
``Of course, after the apprenticeship is over, they are free to work someplace else,'' Szanto said. `` But most good apprentices stay. The investment we make with our employees provides the future workers for us.''