Wilbert U spreads operational and technical consistency across plastics processors’ many locations

Young workerWilbert U was established five years ago by Wilbert Plastic Services, a plastics injection molding and thermoforming company headquartered in Belmont, NC. Already, Wilbert U has had an amazing impact on the company thanks to its comprehensive and innovative internal training program focused on true employee development, said the company.

Greg Botner, Wilbert Plastic Services’ CEO, explained to PlasticsToday the importance of the program to the company’s success. “We initiated this program in 2013 because we recognized a couple of things we needed to address as a business,” said Botner. “One of those is the talent gap given the technical capabilities and demands on our manufacturing floors, which have gone up substantially, particularly as robotics and automation have become more complex. We want employees to have at least a cursory understanding of how things work.”

Second, and most important, is employee retention, said Botner. “We found that with our broad-based program that encompasses technical and leadership skills training, over time people can work their way into management or higher-level positions in the company. If we’re getting 60 to 70% of our employees more engaged in their jobs, they’re less likely to leave because they are more involved with the company. Additionally we’re getting better employees and employees that want to be here.”

This summer, Wilbert U moved to a cloud-based system in order to reach more individuals across the company’s eight locations, which include thermoforming facilities, injection molding plants, sales and engineering groups and the corporate headquarters. The first implementation of the cloud-based Wilbert U came online on June 20 and has been available at all the facilities since Aug. 14.

Amelia Keown, Corporate Training Coordinator for Wilbert Plastic Services, told PlasticsToday that the transformation of Wilbert U into a more modern, cloud-based learning program allows Wilbert’s 1,300 employees the freedom to take classes online any time, anywhere. “All they need is an internet connection and they can take training courses at a library or coffee shop or listen to informative presentations while driving to and from work,” she explained. 

Meeting the needs of today’s millennials and gen-Yers, Wilbert U is very mobile, letting employees learn via phone, computer or tablet. “It’s digital, self-paced knowledge on demand,” said Keown. “The employees are very excited about being able to take required training in this manner as well as taking extra training classes as needs arise.”

An added feature of the cloud-based system is what Keown called “gamification” to make the learning activities more engaging by adding a competitive factor—employees can earn points as they complete the courses. Most of the courses also include an assessment, quiz or test upon completion to ensure the employees are retaining the knowledge. They also complete a survey to evaluate the value of the course so that Keown can see where improvements can be made.  

Courses have been developed for all of Wilbert’s jobs, including injection molding positions such as operator, process technician and maintenance; thermoforming machine tech; paint line positions; and the company’s IQMS system, which has up to 50 courses.

“It’s instructional training applicable to the jobs they are doing,” Keown explained. “We want to continually give them new knowledge that they can immediately apply to their jobs and continually upgrade and add new courses and knowledge skills to be relevant.”

Training through Wilbert U is tied into the Wilbert operating system and has taken standardization across the company’s plants to a level that typically you don’t see in the industry. “No matter how much you engage employees, the predicted turnover is around 15% in manufacturing. Jobs and operating systems must be standardized from plant to plant,” stated Botner. “But employee turnover will happen. We need to standardize because the person with the tribal knowledge will leave one day and we need a person coming in to be running full speed within 30 days on the job.”

Botner notes that while Wilbert and many other plastics processing companies work with local high schools and community colleges to develop programs, the fact that Wilbert has plants in several locations makes company-wide standardization of training and operational systems difficult. 
“We can’t concentrate a big enough program with government institutions in each locale, as the coordination would be difficult, so we felt we had to implement this type of program ourselves. Our training program is now common to all of our plants, and with the cloud-based system is easily accessible to all employees.

“The training program gives us more engagement with our employees and gives employees more engagement with the company,” Botner added. “I think that’s important today. The young people we’re hiring want more out of a job than just the job itself. They want opportunities. As a result, we’re seeing higher retention rates, something we thought might occur, but the numbers are substantiating that it’s working. That’s a good benefit of the program and it’s becoming a part of our culture.” 

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