Finding, retaining talent: Culture is key for motor manufacturer

Whether you choose to believe there is no shortage of engineering workers (such as those purported in the BusinessWeek article, “The Science Education Myth”) or you’re among the many manufacturers wrestling with filling engineering vacancies today, there is one fact that is indisputable: once you have the right person doing the job, it’s in your best interest to keep her there.
By Control Engineering Staff January 31, 2008

Lyman, SC – Whether you choose to believe there is no shortage of engineering workers (such as those purported in the

BusinessWeek article, “The Science Education Myth”

) or you’re among the many

manufacturers wrestling with filling engineering vacancies today (as covered in our January “Closing the Skills Gap” cover story

,) there is one fact that is indisputable: once you have the right person doing the job, it’s in your best interest to keep her there. Finding and retaining talent, particularly in today’s jittery market, is critical to the long-term success of your business.

Retaining talent and process improvements were among topics discussed with

SEW-Eurodrive

– global provider of gearmotors, drives and associated technologies. That company recently provided Control Engineering with a behind-the-scenes tour of the company’s production and assembly operations in Lyman, SC. In addition to highlighting the innovative processes which earned the company a

2007 Top Plant award from Control Engineering’s sister publication Plant Engineering

, the company was just as eager to praise the SEW workforce for playing a critical role in the company’s ongoing success.

According to Carl Hinze, SEW’s plant manager, this attitude is driven from the top-down.

“The leadership at SEW takes a very open approach to process improvement,” said Hinze. “If you have an idea to improve the way you do your job and can make a case for investing in new tools or equipment, you can make it happen. That’s one of the key reasons why we can keep pace with quickly-rising demand.”

Hinze also cites personal accountability as another component integral to the organization’s ongoing success. Individual machine operators, for example, are responsible for the cleanliness and upkeep of the machines they manage. This not only creates an incredibly clean shop floor, but also increases a “pride of ownership” at the operator level and streamlines preventive maintenance.

The sum total of these activities creates a work atmosphere where people feel valued, personally invested in the success or failure of the business and committed toward achieving a common goal. This has resulted in greater efficiency (fewer shifts necessary to meet demand) and improved profitability (measured by reduced average cost per unit produced.) Perhaps the most telling metric, however, comes from the workers themselves.

“We’ll often have operators approach us and tell us that they have the capacity to operate more machines during their shift and actually ask for adding equipment to make this happen,” said Chuck Chandler, assistant plant manager. “They let us know where we can make investments to improve throughput and productivity, and lately we’ve been bringing in new equipment on a very regular basis.”

When operations are not running at peak capacity, SEW takes the opportunity to offer additional training to employees. This, combined with the ability to work on new and varied equipment, keeps the job from becoming mundane, and helps employees to keep their skills sharp and their jobs interesting.

“We have incredibly low turnover and most of the people you see on the plant floor have been here for 10 years or more,” stated Hinze.

So if you’re looking for another innovative way to help close the skills gap, stay focused on your existing workers. It will likely provide the greatest return on investment your company will make.

Related technology coverage from Control Engineering includes:

Material handling: Monorail system with non-contact power transfer demonstrated in Germany

.

Marc Moschetto, editorial director
Control Engineering News Desk
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