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(L-R) Justine Burdette, vice president, MIchigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West; Laura Elsner, workforce development manager, DeWys Manufacturing; and Bradley Rick, director of manufacturing operations, Amway Corp. (L-R) Justine Burdette, vice president, MIchigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West; Laura Elsner, workforce development manager, DeWys Manufacturing; and Bradley Rick, director of manufacturing operations, Amway Corp. COURTESY PHOTOS

West Michigan manufacturers succeed by going “all in” on culture to attract talent

BY MiBiz Marketing Staff Wednesday, September 05, 2018 03:21pm

SPONSORED: Amid a talent crisis, West Michigan manufacturers need to develop a purposeful approach to attracting workers based on company culture and values. Simply being present on social media or posting on the latest job board isn’t enough to appeal to workers in a tight labor market.  

That was a key takeaway during a webinar hosted last week by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West and MiBiz.  Executives from The Center, Amway Corp. and DeWys Manufacturing stressed the importance of committing to a culture that integrates talent attraction as a tenant of the company — from leadership to the plant floor.

“The reality is you can’t just conquer talent challenges with a bigger ‘Help Wanted’ ad or a new training package,” said MiBiz Publisher Brian Edwards, who hosted the webinar.  “These companies show that you really have to embrace your company culture and build a comprehensive talent strategy off of that.”   

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Manufacturing Talent Strategies Webinar

Learn how culture shapes successful talent attraction in West Michigan’s manufacturing sector. Watch or listen to a video replay of the 50-minute webinar featuring experts from the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West, Amway and DeWys Manufacturing.



For Bradley Rick, director of manufacturing operations at Amway, that commitment manifested in the company’s recently opened “high-performance” manufacturing plants. Unlike its other traditional operations, the new plants eschew the ultra-specific job titles so common among manufacturers. Instead of a worker being relegated into the role of a skid loader or high-low operator, each employee on the plant floor serves as a manufacturing technician, capable of crossing over into a number of different tasks.

“When you have these narrow job titles, it results in the ‘not my job’ mentality that contributes to inefficiencies,” Rick said during the webinar.

In addition, Amway developed a transparent and open pathway to promotions that are posted for employees to see on the plant floor. For Amway, having a more open-ended career path coupled with less stringent job descriptions helps workers of all backgrounds to feel more welcomed, Rick said. It also encourages employees to branch out of their comfort zones and embrace failure since performing poorly in one skill area does not negatively contribute to the workers overall performance review.

These changes to Amway’s manufacturing operations reflect a larger mentality shift in the region’s approach to talent attraction by promoting meaningful work and a culture worth working for, according to The Center-West Regional Director Justine Burdette.  

“If your culture is not attracting the best talent to your front door, there’s no middle ground,” Burdette said.  “If you’re not working on your culture, that’s the biggest thing you have to fix.”

Burdette suggested manufacturers be purposeful in their talent-attraction practices. For example, instead of posting job openings on social media, manufacturers should focus on producing interesting content that inspires young people by communicating the company’s story and culture.

Moreover, manufacturers need to establish a track record of offering abundant training opportunities to train and upskill their workforce, Burdette said, adding that those opportunities can be a bit outside the box. For example, companies could encourage their workers to coach a middle school or high school robotics team.

“Dedicate those resources, the time, the money, (and) the time off the floor for your employees for them to upscale themselves,” Burdette said. “It simply becomes a part of your culture when you can show that you’re bought into your employees' success.”

DeWys Manufacturing, a Marne-based metal fabricator, was an early adopter of thinking outside the box to attract and retain talent. In 2012, the company launched its DeWys University, a program designed to attract workers and train new employees to the company’s standards. Since then, the university has woven itself into the fabric of the company, with three full-time trainers dedicated to working with new and current employees, said Laura Elsner, DeWys’s workforce development manager.

“I think DeWys is becoming not just a place for a job,” Elsner said. “Our goal is to become a destination of choice because of the culture, because of the value of training and who we are as a company.”

Outside of developing culture from within, Elsner also advocates for manufacturers to get in front of educators and parents to talk to them about the industry. By doing so, Elsner and her contemporaries aim to shift the perception of manufacturing as a career that is dangerous, dirty and dead-end, to something more inline with the modern, technologically driven industry of today.

Going one step further, Burdette hopes to show young people that manufacturing isn’t limited to people interested in engineering or skilled trades alone.

“Our next iteration is to continue to reach out to our community and our young people and letting them know that even if you don’t want to be an engineer or work in still trades, if you’re interested in marketing or accounting there is a place for you in manufacturing,” she said. “We want you, and we need your passion.”

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