A strong workforce sets Central Ohio manufacturers up for success

Kahiki truly understands its culture; it spends a lot of time on it. Kelly says when the company first started hiring it used a third-party agency to help with recruiting, but that third party wasn’t as tuned in to its culture.

“We were on a parallel path. We were recruiting on our own and we were using a third party — and the difference was pretty stark,” he says.

Kahiki was better at marketing itself. It knew it wanted to hire for attitude and aptitude.

“Attracting the entry-level staff is part science and part art — and that’s really the emphasis on understanding the culture and the skills that you’re hiring for,” Kelly says. “If you go about this just trying to get people in the door, you’re going to have more trouble. Once you really understand the nature of your team environment and the culture you’re creating and the work that’s really being done, and then hiring for that, it goes much more smoothly.”

But it does take work to find those people, he says. Kahiki has had to not only advertise for those, but it also has developed partnerships, such as The Arc of Ohio and veterans programs.

Another important factor is having the right training focus in place, whether that’s using a buddy system where a new hire is paired with a more experienced employee or training from management. Kelly says Kahiki does both.

“That’s made a big difference in getting these lines up to the expected level of efficiency,” he says.

Look around the next corner

Buckeye Shapeform, a metal fabrication company, also faces challenges with the need to find skilled labor.

Ken Tumblison, President, Buckeye Shapeform

“We’re in a labor market where those talents are not readily available. Certainly, from a machinist and tool and die maker standpoint, it seems as those skilled trades are dwindling, as far as kids coming up through trade schools,” says President Ken Tumblison.

In addition, he says the company recognizes that much of its 50-person workforce is approaching retirement age.

Not only has Buckeye Shapeform made connections with the trade schools and local universities, it’s also providing internal training, such as sending employees to learn CNC programming.

“We’re attempting to be cognizant of the needs that are going to be around the next corner, and try to prepare ourselves for what’s coming at us,” Tumblison says.

The company, like many manufacturers, might be hiring a general labor position, but it’s looking for somebody who has the aptitude to move into a different role down the road.

Buckeye Shapeform has four very different and diverse product categories, so Tumblison and his team work hard to not lose sight of the overall business model.

“Any one of these product categories can be in a down cycle,” he says. “But we have to not get caught up in that particular situation and keep pushing forward in our marketing, in our talent development, in doing our skills assessment of our employees so that we keep them engaged in our business.”

If a business leader starts to see a business category decline, his or her first instinct can be to start cutting people and expenses. But it’s not as black and white as that; the leader needs to make educated decisions.

“You have to stay cognizant of the fact that these cycles always turn and you don’t want to cut to the bone and lose talent that you’re going to need once the recovery starts,” Tumblison says. “That’s the important thing in my mind — to keep looking around the next corner.”

It’s not easy, but Tumblison is cautiously optimistic, with the company’s 2017 projections pointing to moderate growth in most business categories, and more robust growth for its military contracts.

He also hopes that the political rhetoric around bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. will be realized.
Buckeye Shapeform focuses on quality and customer service because overseas manufacturing is often cheaper.

“We’ve had people say, ‘No, cost is important to us’ and they’ve gone overseas, and several, if not all, have eventually returned,” Tumblison says. “Because they have found that pricing is just not everything.”

How to reach: The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., (937) 644-0011; Columbus Canvas Products, (614) 375-1397; Kahiki Foods, (855) 524-4540; Buckeye Shapeform, (877) 728-0776


A bird’s eye view of manufacturing risks

Central Ohioans, especially those in Franklin County, don’t always identify as a manufacturing base.

“We don’t really think of ourselves as manufacturing, but we are,” says Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “Part of that is some of the buildings you drive by, you don’t know they are a factory; they just look like a building. People would be surprised at the equipment that is operating in those plain, old buildings.”

Pressures to watch

Although Burkland hears most Ohio manufacturers expect modest growth this year, important risks include a strong dollar, human resources and technology investment.

Ohio manufacturing is an export-oriented industrial base, Burkland says. The Asian and European economies aren’t growing as fast, which will dampen some Ohio manufacturers’ sales.

“The protection from the global cost pressures, including this strong dollar, is a continual focus on expense reduction. Successful manufacturers are continually examining their cost structures,” he says.

The shortage of skilled workers is an ongoing concern that will continue to generate innovative workforce recruitment and retention programs.

Another concern is staying up with the technology investment curve to have the most modern machinery and equipment.

Manufacturers, generally, are conservative about their cash positions because it’s an expensive investment, Burkland says. Most watch their cash flow very carefully and have a process of prudency for ROI, which usually means an 18-24 month ROI before making a major investment. They don’t want to have too much cash tied up should there be an economic downturn.