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What manufacturing can do for people who choose to work hard

My colleague, John Clark, wrote an interesting blog based on an article in Salon.com called “No, manufacturing jobs won’t revive the economy.” I read the article as well. Two plastics companies, Nypro and Atrium Medical, were cited by the article’s author, Livia Gershon.

Clare Goldsberry

July 3, 2013

4 Min Read
What manufacturing can do for people who choose to work hard

The author talked to a number of different types of workers in her quest to understand manufacturing – but many of them were assembly workers. Depending on who the author spoke with, pay varied from $8 an hour for some of the lesser or semi-skilled workers to $15 for a quality inspector. The skill level seemed to be the key.
Currently, I’ve got more press releases and information on community college and technical programs for raising the skill level of workers that I can possibly write about in the next two months. And, in talking to many of the companies and the program administrators, I’ve learned an interesting fact: many of these programs have trouble finding qualified students.
The Salon.com article quoted Steve Sawin, CEO of Operon, a provider of semi-skilled workers to work for Nypro’s operations. Operon tests dozens of applicants a week to find those suitable for a high-tech modern work environment. However, Sawin noted a common problem in finding employees is that many “have not been indoctrinated in the basic tenet of the good work ethic.”
The lack of a good work ethic is a complaint I’ve heard over and over from molders and moldmakers when asked why it’s so difficult to find people who want to work when the unemployment rate is so high and people are grousing about not being able to find a job. Recently, one mold company owner told me, “They come in for an interview and before we’ve even talked about their qualifications for the job, they want to know how many weeks vacation they get or tell me they’ll only work first shift and that they need time off for this or that situation,” he said.
Another mold company owner said that the one thing he’s noticed about his newer hires is the trouble they have getting to work on time. And it doesn’t seem to bother them that they get written up for this and warned that their jobs are in jeopardy if they are continually late.  “It’s like they just don’t care,” he said.
If you read the article I wrote about the Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new CNC Operator program and some of the comments from Dave Martin, President of Accu-Mold, you’ll see the same problem: people applying for the program who don’t have the “character traits” to qualify for the program. Translate that to mean “work ethic.”
The Salon.com article noted how the author checked out Craigslist in Michigan and that ads for CNC lathe operators were paying $35 an hour. Accu-Mold’s Martin said he sees the lack of skilled workers – and the demand for these workers – pushing the hourly wages up by 50% or more over the next five to 10 years in Michigan as the baby boomers retire.
One interesting question that the author of the article in Salon.com asked was whether or not the lower paid workers would have better initiative if they were paid more. That has been broached many times by consultants who spend their lives helping companies create workplaces in which employees are productive and actually excited about their jobs. The conclusion is generally that pay doesn’t matter as much as appreciation.
It seems that people like pizza parties if their department goes a month without a missed work day or an accident, or a day off with pay, or a $25 gift card to a local eatery. As an old-timer, my dad – a former tool & die maker for 35 years before founding his own company and growing it to 70 employees – found it silly to think that people needed a pizza party to provide an incentive for them to get to work on time for a whole month.
The “high road” that Nypro has taken and which my colleague, John Clark, pointed out is certainly one that seems to be beneficial for both the company and the employees. Automation is certainly changing the landscape of manufacturing. It’s also changing the types of skills needed. The one thing that isn’t changing is people willing to work, eager to learn, and disciplined enough to get to work on time and do what it takes to ensure their own success as well as that of the company.

I believe that manufacturing offers many opportunities, but I also think Operon’s Sawin was right:  it doesn’t have to do “with pay as much as it does with principles.”

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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