New Faces, New Expectations

Aug. 9, 2006
At the very least, manufacturers seeking to attract a new talent pool and shrink the skills gap need to understand who today's potential production workers are and what they expect from an employer. Meet Bill Boyer, Kenneth Paulett, Michael Carr and Canda

Staff Sergeant To Plant-Floor General

As Bill Boyer walks down the wood-block floor of Caterpillar Inc.'s aging 600,000 sq-ft tractor and truck transmission factory in East Peoria, Ill., he seems slightly distressed by an out-of-place parts bin. He explains that the facility is still going through a manufacturing transformation and that when he first arrived in March 2005 he experienced a "culture shock" from the disorder.

It's hard to blame Boyer for being a little meticulous. During his four years in the U.S. Marine Corps order and structure were the norm. But 28-year-old Boyer isn't in the Marines anymore. Today, he's part of the manufacturing world where making the transition to a lean operation sometimes can be painful.

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Boyer works for Advanced Technology Services Inc. (ATS), a Peoria, Ill.-based company that provides machine-maintenance workers for manufacturers, including Caterpillar. Boyer serves as a site manager. Fortunately for Caterpillar, Boyer doesn't view the disorganized transmission facility with World War II-era machinery as a problem. Rather he considers the plant his "project," a challenge he's determined to conquer. Boyer's can-do attitude is no surprise. He's the chiseled young person you see in military recruiting ads -- the one who stands tall, sits up straight and looks you in the eye when he's speaking. He doesn't mince words, even if it might upset veteran co-workers who hold years and years of seniority over him.
ATS' Bill Boyer keeps order for Caterpillar's machine maintenance.He credits his leadership skills to his military training and his enthusiasm for manufacturing to his father, who also was a Marine and who worked briefly as a welder.

Boyer's journey to manufacturing began in 1996 shortly after graduating from high school in Chillicothe, Ill. He joined the Marines and was trained to be a welder. He was promoted to lance corporal and then to staff sergeant before being honorably discharged in 2000. Having maintained such heavy equipment and vehicles as bulldozers, cranes and Humvees for four years, Boyer decided he had enough of manual labor. "I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and I thought coming out that the industry I was going to face was one that was going to be driven by the IT business," he says.

So when Boyer returned to his hometown in 2000, he attended a local community college and obtained A-plus certification to work on computers. Almost immediately after completing his coursework, the opportunity to join ATS arrived. Boyer heard about the job from his wife, who at the time was a recruiter for ATS. The company needed technicians because it was getting ready to take over machine maintenance at Caterpillar's Mossville, Ill., engine plant. Boyer didn't have all the skills ATS was seeking, but his welding background, leadership skills from the military and his computer certification worked in his favor.

At first, Boyer was a bit uncertain about his future with ATS. After all, he was back to wearing a welding helmet all day -- the exact type of job he was trying to get away from. But Boyer quickly discovered that ATS was a growing company and that there were more opportunities for him beyond welding.

Six months later, Boyer was promoted to shift team leader at Mossville and then to site manager. Today, Boyer is responsible for supervising machine maintenance at four Caterpillar facilities. Boyer says his next goal is to be a regional or area manager. But Boyer thinks he's destined for even more. "My overall objective is to be [CEO] Jeff Owens -- to run the company. That's obviously where I want to be. That's what I like to do. I like to be in charge."

As he leaves the transmission plant, Boyer points out the facility's new lunchroom and notes how much it's done for morale. Previously, plant workers ate meals at their grimy workstations, something past generations of workers may not have given a second thought. But Boyer is like many other young adults entering the workforce today. They want to see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. A lifetime on the production line simply isn't enough, and if manufacturers are going to attract motivated young people like Boyer, they'll have to do more.

"They have to be a growing business, first and foremost," Boyer says. "They have to be on the forefront. They have to be positioned in a way to be able to tell the candidate, 'Hey, our business is growing, and there's opportunity.' Opportunity is key, I think for any of us. If a company or manufacturer cannot show us opportunity, that would keep any of us from being interested in working for that company."

Retiring To Manufacturing

On a rare warm spring morning in Cleveland, Kenneth Paulett takes a break after finishing his day as a part-time volunteer offering free legal advice to crime victims at the city's Justice Center. It's just a short rest for the mild-mannered, 54-year-old retired police officer. That's because in a few more hours he will drive to his second-shift job as a machine operator at the industrial valve division of Swagelok Co., a privately held manufacturer of fluid system components based in Solon, Ohio.

After 17 years of police work, Kenneth Paulett switched gears to work in manufacturing.Working in a machine shop is a curious job choice for someone with a bachelor's degree in economics and a law degree. But the last thing Paulett wanted to do after retiring was to settle down. In 2000, Paulett thought it was time for a change of pace. He had spent 17 years working as a patrolman and staff sergeant for the eastside Cleveland suburb of Cleveland Heights and another four years as a division captain for the Cleveland Metroparks, where he oversaw personnel, protective services and business-related functions of the regional park system.

He also had worked a stint as a security guard at General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown, Ohio, auto assembly plant. And it was there that Paulett says his interest in manufacturing took off. "It just seemed interesting. It seemed different, and it seemed less stressful than having to worry about a big department."

Michael Carr hopes to advance his career at Nissan by obtaining a master's degree.After hearing a radio advertisement for a Swagelok job fair, Paulett, who had no manufacturing experience, applied for a position as a machine operator. He's now a Level-3 operator and is working toward Level-4 status, which involves machine troubleshooting. Paulett says although his job is challenging and "definitely not boring," manufacturers aren't effectively communicating such facts to prospective employees. "I don't think people really understand what manufacturing involves. They all see it as just the common, old-fashioned assembly line, and it's not anymore," he emphasizes. "There's a lot more machine maintenance, individual responsibility, [and] there's a tremendous amount of learning that goes on -- and the demand for skilled people is phenomenal. Manufacturers have to sell the fact that they are in the 21st century."

Not Quitting Manufacturing

Layoffs stink. Anyone who's been laid off knows the frustration. It's so unnerving that many people who lose their jobs end up switching careers. But not Michael Carr. Although he has been laid off at a welding shop and a chemical plant, Carr still believes in manufacturing. And if there's anyone who could have moved on to another occupation, it's Carr. The 32-year-old lead production technician at Nissan North America Inc.'s Canton, Miss., plant has a bachelor's degree in sociology from Mississippi Valley State University.

Skills Shortage Continues
A stunning 80% of manufacturers anticipate a shortage of skilled production workers during the next three years. The supply of scientists and engineers also is likely to fall short of demand.
Employee category % anticipating shortage
Skilled production 80
Scientists and engineers 35
Unskilled production 25
Sales and marketing 18
Management and administration 16
Customer service 8
Other 5
None 4
Source: National Association of Manufacturers and Deloitte Consulting LLP. Total adds to more than 100% since multiple responses were allowed.
After graduating in 1998, Carr worked briefly in human resources -- until he realized that job wasn't going to pay the bills. Manufacturing seemed to offer the financial support and security he needed then. Carr even worked two jobs for several years after finishing school. But then came the layoffs. Still undeterred, Carr accepted a job repairing railroad tracks as an employee of the Kansas City Southern Railway Co. The job paid well, but Carr was looking for more. With a young daughter to support, Carr wanted stability, benefits and a chance to advance his career. Carr had applied for a job with Gardena, Calif.-based Nissan North America around the same time he sought employment with the railroad. Six months into the railroad job, Nissan came calling.

The job with Nissan paid less than the railroad, but for Carr the decision was a no-brainer. "If you have excellent pay and no benefits, you stand to be left out on a limb, especially if you have kids," Carr says. "I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I feel like for both of us I made the right decision to leave the railroad."

Carr's main motivating factors for accepting the Nissan job were the company's no-layoffs history and an opportunity to advance his career with the automaker. Indeed, he's hoping to move forward by obtaining a master's degree, with the help of Nissan's tuition-assistance program.

Better Than Pizza

Just a couple years ago Candace Matson was wondering where her career was headed, if anywhere. She had worked the gamut of service-level jobs from retail stores to cable installation to panning pizzas at Chuck E. Cheese's. On Valentines Day 2005, Matson, a 29-year-old Whittier, Calif., resident, decided to check out a technical school that a friend of hers attended shortly after they graduated from high school in 1995.

The problem was, she couldn't remember the name of the school and had lost contact with the friend who attended the training center. But as fate would have it, Matson found the school by simply driving around the neighborhood until she recognized the building. The school was the Norwalk, Calif., campus of NTMA Training Centers of Southern California. Matson enrolled in classes that day and as she says, "Everything just seemed to fall into place like it was a meant-to-be kind of thing."

Candace Matson makes brake rotors for Wecly International in City of Industry, Calif.Matson learned how to operate CNC machines and completed the program in September 2005. Now Matson has a career. She's working as a machinist making high-performance brake rotors for Wecly International Inc., a small company in City of Industry, Calif.

Matson seems poised to continue progressing at her job, and she says there's talk of placing her in a supervisory position.

More important, Matson, a mother of four, has a future for her children. "Everything you see has been touched by a machinist. Even something as simple as an apple -- somebody had to make the conveyor belt; somebody had to build the trucks to bring them down," she says. "So just having that knowledge that I will have a career for the rest of my life is something that I can say, 'Okay, I have this for my kids' -- that was one of my main draws to it."

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