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One of the biggest challenges faced by U.S. manufacturing companies is finding ways to attract, engage and retain workers. Today’s generation of 20-something workers is unfamiliar with manufacturing as a career option. Factory work is something their grandparents did. At the same time, some companies are proving that U.S. factories can be cost competitive and that the jobs created are transformative, in that production operators have a career path beyond entry-level work if they choose to pursue additional company-sponsored training.
In 2014, electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider Firstronic nearly doubled its workforce in Grand Rapids, MI, adding 110 workers. Most were entry-level workers. A $300,000 grant from The Right Place Inc., in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), and the City of Grand Rapids, as well as a $289,550 Skilled Trades Training Funds (STTF) grant from the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, was used to offset the costs of the training required to hire the additional workers.
To efficiently meet their rapidly growing customers’ demand, the company adopted a 24/7 work schedule that has production employees working 12-hour shifts on alternating three- and four-day weeks. Of the four shifts, shifts one and two work the same schedule of long and short weeks, with shifts three and four covering the alternate weeks. Employee training was scheduled in four-hour blocks on one of the days during employees’ three-day “short” work week. Employees were paid for training time and could pick the day and time block that worked best with their schedules.
The quality department developed a training program, delivered in three phases, which was rolled out in the first three quarters of 2014. Phase I focused on core training for all employees; Phase II provided advanced system training; and Phase III defined and implemented certified operator training (COT) evaluations and classifications.
However, by early 2015, employee turnover was becoming an issue. New hires were going through training and leaving within the first year. Turnover on fourth shift (which includes every Friday and Saturday night) was highest, topping 6% per month. Virtually all of the turnover involved employees with less than a year on the job and the majority of that turnover came from people who had less than six months on the job. The question became, “how can we identify the right candidates who are geared for manufacturing jobs and change our process so that our new employees become instilled with Firstronic’s DNA and a desire to grow with our company?”
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of SMT Magazine.