Business boils down to people. Men and women are employed making things that are bought by people. Pretty simple. But now there's another people angle facing the plastics industry, and all of manufacturing.
Yes, the skilled worker shortage — how to hire people and retain them — got a workout at the Plastics News Executive Forum.
Two headhunters spoke at the Executive Forum: Dennis Gros and Russ Reindeau. They mainly talked about hiring sales people and executives. You will read our coverage of these two gurus.
But what about the operators, mold-changers, tool makers, the people that make the products?
For that factory-floor view, the best human resources experts are leaders at the finalists for Plastics News' Processor of the Year Award. They spoke at a breakfast panel to close out the Executive Forum, which was held in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., earlier this month.
Employee relations is one of the award criteria. Any company that makes it to the finalists' circle has excellent employees and low turnover.
The executives of Stihl Inc., which won the Processor of the Year Award, and the other finalists, Evco Plastics Inc., Prism Plastics Inc. and Nicolet Plastics Inc., emphasize training and smart hiring.
But here's the interesting thing: When they hire, they don't look only at work experience and vocational “skills.”
“Hire for attitude, train for knowledge,” said Evco President Dale Evans.
He said it can be hard to change the mindset of technical plastics people who have worked at other companies, so Evco no longer focuses on that. Instead, the company puts new employees through training, and gives then opportunities to seek more.
Besides, as Evans said: “The technical skills are always changing, always evolving.”
The same message came from Rodney Bricker, vice president of Prism Plastics. The company looks for good people and they do extensive training.
“Character, attitude first, and then technical,” he said.
Evco runs factories in the United States, China and Mexico. Each plant is clean and climate controlled. Evans said he treats people the same in all three countries. “We have really good retention with that, really around the world,” he said. “Our technical staff is practically zero turnover.”
Nicolet, located up in the hinterlands of Wisconsin, has created a detailed skills matrix encouraging employees to learn new tasks. Nicolet has a very cross-trained workforce, and they run the factory floor.
“We want somebody that comes that can move at least two increments up,” said Bob Macintosh, president, CEO and owner.
Stihl has an impressive, nationally recognized apprenticeship program. (Yes, or rather, Ja, they're German owned, but they've Americanized it and are willing to share.) The average age of a Stihl apprentice is 31.
So now Stihl is moving down to the high school level. So are some other plastics companies around the country. It makes sense.