Indianapolis — The search for workers continues in the U.S. plastics market, with employers getting creative to find them.
"Finding employees is our largest challenge," Kenton Williams said Oct. 3 at the 2019 MAPP Benchmarking & Best Practices Conference in Indianapolis. Williams is general manager of Royer Corp., a maker of plastic promotional items such as swizzle sticks and stirrers in Madison, Ind.
Indiana's low unemployment rate made it hard for Royer to find employees. For answers, it turned to an unlikely partner — its county department of corrections.
Since the late 2000s, Royer has hired more than 400 workers who were detained at a nearby correctional facility. The firm has hired 73 prisoners in the last 25 months alone. Prisoners now make up 25 percent of Royer's 85 direct labor employees.
The prisoners are paid through a work release program, although the government takes some of their earnings. Most of the prisoners who work for Royer stay from six months to a year.
Williams said during the event sponsored by the Indianapolis-based Manufacturers Alliance for Plastics Processors that the workers Royer sources from the correctional facility "are reliable and hard working." He said they've had very few problems with prisoner employees.
Workers sourced through the program are serving time for a range of offenses, including DUI and drug dealing. Before being hired, they're interviewed, trained and given a drug test. They're also shadowed after starting on the job.
Some of the workers have remained with Royer after their sentences are completed. One former prisoner now is a member of the firm's sales team, while one works in customer service and another works in quality control.
Prisoner workers are transported to and from Royer by the corrections department. They work all three shifts at the plant and also can work overtime and weekends.
The prisoner workers "have been a godsend for our company," Williams said. "These are people who've made mistakes, but we all make mistakes."
James Brown is seeing similar employee shortages at Augustine Plastics Inc., a custom injection molder in Somerset, Pa. Brown is president and CEO of the 78-employee firm, which makes parts for the aerospace, defense and health care industries.