When the discussion turns to 2004's outlook for employment in the plastics equipment business, I am often asked, ``Will this also be a jobless recovery among the plastics industry's equipment makers?'' The answer is not at all ... if job seekers have the right background.
With a trend that accelerated since 2000, manufacturers have been adjusting their hiring practices, impacting not only the volume of hiring, but also the types of skills sought.
Naturally, the downturn in capital equipment sales has resulted in a reduction in machine sales positions. But at the same time, some of the more resilient capital equipment makers have generated increased demand for electrical and mechanical engineers as they re-emphasized investment in R&D as a means to future competitiveness. For example, Krauss Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH has been for some time aggressively pursuing degreed engineers in various disciplines to feed its innovation-engine.
As processors struggle to maintain margins, two strategies have emerged that are impacting equipment maker's hiring practices:
* Processors forestalling the decision to purchase new capital equipment are emphasizing maintenance and retrofit of existing equipment. This has led to a shortage of field service technicians and field service engineers.
* Processors are increasingly turning to deployment of more and newer auxiliary equipment on existing lines as a means of obtaining higher productivity at lower costs vs. installation of new primary equipment. As a result, makers of auxiliary equipment are generating a strong, new demand for applications engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and computer-aided design specialists.
For example, ACS Group, the Wood Dale, Ill.-based manufacturer of multiple categories of auxiliary equipment, has experienced an increase in new employment for technical and managerial positions of 30 percent over the last year.
And, with increased acceptance of equipment sourced overseas - especially the growing competitiveness of Chinese-made capital equipment - employment practices among plastics machinery makers will continue to be dynamic.
Clearly, a premium will continue to be placed on professional disciplines such as applications- and electrical-engineering as well as on those technical support functions which are key to getting processes up and running - and to keeping them productive - wherever the equipment is sourced.
Akbal is president of KLA Industries Inc., an international recruiting firm that specializes in the plastics industry.