Training the next generation of employees

Like many manufacturers, Precision Kidd Steel Co. Inc. not only deals with lost experience when people retire, it also has a hard time finding job candidates.

“The dynamic of an aging workforce that is retiring at a faster and faster clip with a shrinking pool of people that are interested in these types of jobs really puts a lot of pressure on staffing and maintaining the skilled workforce and resources we need,” says CEO Mark Sowka.

The manufacturer of cold drawn steel has about 75 employees who work on custom products. Sowka says the days of “growth for growth’s sake” and “anything in a positive margin is good business” are gone.

“You now have to look at the opportunity cost. You have to look at labor as potentially a finite or fixed resource, just like equipment capacity,” he says.

What the company doesn’t do is compromise on who it hires, even if that means it’s not fully staffed. That can mean getting creative with staffing and shift models, while doing more with less.

With workforce development, Sowka says it’s important to be creative and search all available resources.

“Investing in people doesn’t have a very quick and very tangible payoff, but over the long term, it’s absolutely vital for an organization,” he says.

Precision Kidd Steel also utilizes mentoring and bidding.

“We allow employees to put their name in the hat and say I’m interested in moving from the job I’m doing to that more advanced job,” Sowka says.

This internal promotion system is based on a set of criteria: work performance, experience and seniority, etc. If chosen for a higher skilled job, employees get additional training and higher pay.

“People in an office environment typically know what they need to do to move up in an organization,” he says. “It’s not always so well defined in a manufacturing organization, so this provides a structured and a well-defined path for them, for how they better themselves in their career.”

Partnering up

It’s also important to create partnerships, as companies like Precision Kidd Steel aren’t large enough to support significant in-house training.

Sowka says companies need to partner with colleges to identify candidates. Once they find people with aptitude, state training grants can help build candidates up to the right skill level.