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Closing the Skills Gap: How Plastikos meets recruiting, retention challenges

There are a lot of challenges facing today’s manufacturing companies when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining employees in an effort to close the skills gap. Plastikos Erie, a contract manufacturer of injection molded components, and its mold manufacturing division, Micro Mold Inc., are always searching for people to join the team who can contribute skills, learn new skills, and will stay with the company long term. And that’s not easy given that many manufacturers are competing for the same people and skills.


“Recruitment and retention are big challenges that all businesses – especially manufacturers – face. At Plastikos and Micro Mold we took a strategic approach and rolled up our sleeves to develop a game plan,” said Philip Katen, president and general manager, for Plastikos. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that there are no good people out there. You just need to look harder – to work harder – and you will find some very good people to develop.”

Part of the problem, Katen told PlasticsToday, is that companies have “raised the bar” and become “very focused” on the various skill sets so that no trade school or academic institution – or even other employer – is able to train the “perfect person that will land on your doorstep.”

That means that more responsibility is placed on employers. “If you want very good employees who perform at a high level – all-star, top performers – in production, quality, sales, management and administrative roles throughout the organization, you have to have a strategy and a vision,” said Katen. “And you have to lay out a plan to execute recruitment and retention.”
   
Katen offers some tips for successful in recruiting and retaining top-notch employees:

  • Build effective relationships with local trade schools and colleges. Plastikos and Micro Mold work closely with Penn State Erie’s Behrends School and Mercyhurst University, among other local educational institutions. While Penn State-Erie’s program is a technology training ground, Mercyhurst offers a Certificate in Organizational Leadership. Currently, Plastikos has two key individuals who work in senior management roles enrolled in that program. “Often as people move up through the company in their careers, they prove to have excellent engineering skill sets. However, when they enter a management role, they discover that they are missing the leadership and management component because they never had any formal training in that arena,” said Katen. “They need that component to be an effective team leader within the larger organization.” 
  • Work with local high schools to get young people involved early, when they are beginning to think about what they will do after graduation. Both Katen’s brother (Ryan), and their father, who founded Micro Mold and Plastikos, work with a local high school in an attempt to get some metalworking classes “off the shelf that have been lost for nearly two decades. “We’re trying to help develop a hands-on metal working program so these students can get a sense of what manufacturing looks like in 2013 as opposed to their pre-conceived images from 1950,” Katen explained. “Today’s manufacturing is very high-tech and rooted in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas. We give plant tours to show the students that our facilities are modern, clean and bright, with state-of-the-art equipment – all driven largely by the markets we serve. If all of those pieces are in place, then this is a pretty effective aspect of our broader strategy for recruitment and retention well into the future.”
  • Become well-known in the local community by marketing yourself in a way that builds and reinforces your presence as a great place to work. “When you’re marketing to the local community, you’re building local awareness,” Katen said. “Outreach to the local community can include articles in local papers about awards, advancements in our operations, sponsoring youth soccer and Little League, and community service events. Demonstrate to the community that you’re a good corporate partner who supports the local economy and the community generally. There are all these little things that a company can do to make people aware of who you are and your company’s values.”
  • Plastikos actively participates in and supports the local SPE chapter as well as Penn State-Erie’s undergraduate plastics programs and Injection Molding Technology conference. It also supports local non-profits and service organizations all to build a positive presence in the local marketplace. “We believe that Plastikos and Micro Mold have a responsibility to actively support and invest in our local community,” Katen stated. Through these efforts the community becomes aware of the company, gets to know us and know what we stand for. That will attract people because everyone wants to play for a winning team and be part of a team of which they can be proud. That recognition makes our external recruitment efforts easier.”
  • Develop a culture that makes people want to stay long term. “Identify those aspects of your company that make you successful and then reward people for their specific, individual contribution to your team’s success,” Katen advised. “Provide people with growth opportunities in their careers, including training, and pay competitive wages with good benefits. It’s about building a culture that people are proud to be a part of that promotes strong retention.”


Plastikos’ and Micro Mold’s success in both recruitment and retention continues to pay off. The company has several employees who have been with the company for 20, 25, and even 30-plus years – several of those individuals began working there after graduating from high school and never looked back.

“While there’s no silver bullet that can solve all the challenges of the skills gap, all those little pieces add up to our success,” said Katen. “It requires a lot of strategic thinking and a conscious focus to effectively integrate recruitment and retention. Broadly speaking, all of these efforts together create an organization that our team members are proud to be a part of until they retire.”

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