One of the biggest challenges on the shop floor of plastics companies across the country is recruiting and training the next generation of workers. It has been the No. 1 issue for years as processors have struggled to find workers with the right skills necessary for the production and design of products.
As a result, labor remains one of the plastic industry’s greatest assets. For many shops, one solution to the problem is internships. This offers plastics processors a pipeline of potential young talent to recruit the next generation of skilled labor.
Companies generally have two options: an internship or a co-op. While the lines can blur between the two, in most instances, co-ops are full-time paid positions. A co-op can last from three to 12 months, and often are a joint venture between the university, student and employer. They are traditionally three work terms alternated with school terms. This results in a 5-year degree program. However, this can vary from program to program.
Often referred to as co-operative education, a co-op is a structured blend of classroom instruction and practical work experience. The participant will receive academic credit for structured on-the-job experience. At some schools, students do not take courses during the co-op period. This enables the students to focus on the task at hand, and gain work experience without studies getting in the way.
Because students invest more time in co-ops, they can provide a significant contribution to an organization, which can include working on big projects. They also receive more training. Co-ops also can help families offset some college costs, since students are working full time and may have more money to contribute. Some programs may include multiple co-ops during a student’s academic career.
Internships usually last the duration of a school term, and can be either full- or part-time. Generally, internships last no longer than six months. Typically, internships also can be paid or unpaid, depending on the employer. Most plastics internships are paid, allowing companies to attract the best prospects.
It is imperative for the plastics industry to make high schools and vocational programs aware of the opportunities available in the industry.
Internships can be offered in any area of a company, from engineering to maintenance. Current trends see most interns filling roles in skilled positions, with the hope of developing a potential future employee. Like co-ops, many internships are rotational, offering opportunities across multiple disciplines in a company.
Internships can be offered to college students studying a plastics or manufacturing discipline. They also can be offered to high school students. High schools and colleges also are taking the lead, contacting plastics companies to place promising students in internships.
For the company, a plan should be in place for an internship. The individual should be put in a position to learn, do meaningful work and augment the shop’s workforce in the time they are with the company. By the time the student graduates, they may be a prospective candidate for a full-time position. Like co-ops, many internships can be rotational. In this instance, it allows the student to determine which discipline is the best fit for their talents and interests.
Plastics processors must offer an internship that provides the knowledge and skills that will prepare the student for a career in their field. Managers and supervisors must also put in some work to ensure that the intern gets a meaningful experience.
The intern can be teamed with a mentor within the company, allowing them to learn about what it takes to be successful in the job. A good mentor will prove to be a valuable tool for an intern to learn the ins and outs of the trade
It also is important to develop a clearly defined job description for the intern. During this step, supervisors can begin the planning process in order to ensure their interns will be successful. Companies that define the work assignments and their expectations of what they hope the intern will accomplish will enable their interns to be successful and be a major contributor when working on the shop floor.
Regular performance reviews also should be conducted to chart the intern’s progress. This offers the intern an honest critique so they can measure how they are doing. This should not be used to outline everything they are doing wrong. Constructive criticism will allow them to improve.
A solid internship program receives support from company management, with regular progress reports.
It also is important to provide opportunities for interns to ask questions. Supervisors should encourage them to ask questions. Developing a good working relationship will help the intern feel comfortable going to their supervisor for answers.
Lastly, plastics processors should take time to know and follow all local, state and federal labor laws for their interns.
Internships continue to gain popularity with colleges and training centers offering plastics programs, and students generally have a good chance of being hired as a result of their internship experience. These programs also make the interns more valuable to the plastics industry.
Ultimately, companies can use internships to develop a pipeline of qualified workers.