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Creating Capability and Willingness

By AICC Staff

June 1, 2018

If I am to believe what I have been told by employers lately, there are two kinds of people available in today’s job market: the unwilling and the incapable. Since addressing the topic in this column, I have continued to hear about temporary workers arriving on the production floor, only to exit before shift’s end stating that they were not interested in doing this kind of work. Another group is reported to come in unprepared to do the math and communication required, even if they are willing to do the work. While I understand the employers’ frustration, I do not share their level of cynicism. Most of the folks who are frustrated are searching in the same places they used five years ago, when conditions were very different. The cost of turnover in dollars, productivity, and morale can be offset by investment in different methods of locating, attracting, and retaining the willing and capable for careers in packaging.

Look Outside

In the prior article (BoxScore, May/June 2017), I encouraged a change in strategy. Rather than exclusive use of one source, such as a temp agency, develop relationships with individuals within the many public and private agencies that exist to prepare and equip the workforce, albeit with variable effectiveness. Those who join these boards and visit these agencies are able to sort through the paper pushers and social workers to find individuals who understand your clear requirements and present you with résumés that meet them. This method requires:

  • that you commit personnel to locate these agencies and vet those who will find your potential workers;
  • that you develop clear requirements for your entry-level jobs; and
  • that you incent these providers by interviewing and hiring a percentage of their candidates and possibly serving on their committees or boards.

This is a first step toward developing a more capable and willing labor pool in your community. Those who plan to stay in business take the long view by investing time and resources in area schools. First, by becoming visible through donation of materials for theater and other school projects. Second, by providing such things as:

  • tutoring at the elementary level;
  • plant tours that show the reality of the technology and career opportunities in packaging;
  • involvement in high school tracks (e.g., media arts, industrial tech, computer science);
  • internships for community college graphic arts students; and
  • required projects for business majors and MBA students.

Get Creative

Here are a couple of examples that proved to be effective.

While involved with a high school media arts career academy, I asked students to produce a 10-minute movie. Having promised artistic freedom, I challenged them to explore a question about subjects studied in high school: “What am I ever going to use this for?” Then they were given free access to a packaging facility, where they chose to show the connections between the world of packaging and math, English grammar, foreign language, science, computer science, and graphic arts. I may have chosen to interview different people or score it with different music, but I was not the target audience. The little film was used in all of the academy programs in the area and shown at multiple assemblies. The result was one step in building a bridge between school and work. Students got a glimpse of real jobs in packaging as a destination rather than a place people end up. That was the day high school kids showed me that I needed to stop apologizing and joking about our industry as a place for C students.

Another opportunity to prepare the workforce came when a community college started an industrial mechanics program that utilized equipment in transition from area companies. It was their practice to temporarily house machines that were being replaced by newer technology. The program benefited by access to recent generations of equipment, rather than the dinosaur equipment they owned, and manufacturers were able to move a machine out of their facility without a final decision about its disposition. Most machines were on-site for three to four months before being sold. In some cases the instructors and students performed electrical, hydraulic, or cosmetic improvements to the machine as a part of the agreement. The most it cost the machine owner was the price of an extra stop and a delay in the sale of the old equipment. As a result, students were better prepared on relevant equipment and were persuaded to see packaging careers as a viable option.

Look Inside

Once the basic requirements are firmed up, you may take a look inside your company for workers with the potential and desire to advance. Here again, resources will need to be made available to equip candidates. Even where career-pathing is not a policy, it can be offered to those who nominate themselves. Resources are available to ease your progress, such as:

  • Cross-training grids that depict the work centers in a department and the levels of qualification for each employee are helpful for increasing bench strength and flexibility. In plants where it would be appropriate to display this chart, employees are also motivated by healthy competition.
  • Use this same grid to show that you value training. Those who train get higher ratings than those who operate and hoard knowledge. Take this another step by recognizing and rewarding long-term employees for sharing their knowledge.
  • Keep a training log for each employee, and offer training and experiences that will equip workers to move up and around. A custom training curriculum worksheet is available at AICC’s Packaging School, along with sales and production tracks. This utilizes a combination of e-learning (free to all AICC member companies) and destination workshops. Using your company’s departments as the classroom, Kim Brown developed an e-learning resource called the “Internal Staff Development Guide.”

There is a big difference between scholastic aptitude and the ability to succeed in real life. I have met many who struggled with theory and teaching methods in the classroom and now thrive in the manufacturing environment. Let’s equip our current workers and prepare those who will join us later. The alternative is the status quo, where we get what we settle for.


width=150Scott Ellis, Ed.D., provides the brutal facts with a kind and actionable delivery when a leader, a team, or a company needs an objective, data-based assessment of the current state of operations and culture. Training, coaching, and resources develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. Working Well exists to get you unstuck and accelerate effective work. He can be reached at 425-985-8508 or scott@workingwell.bz.