I just happen to live in Solon and was pumping gas at a station near Swagelok and started up a conversation with a company employee who couldn’t stop praising the company. I’ve never been at a gas station that long! Writes Adrienne Selko for industryWeek.
This encounter demonstrates what Swagelok, and other companies who are growing, know -- employee engagement is central to success.
Swagelok, a manufacturer of fluid system products, assemblies, and services for the research, instrumentation, process, oil and gas, power, petrochemical, alternative fuels, and semiconductor industries, recently announced it will open a new Global Headquarters and Innovation Center at its Ohio location. The company expects to invest between $30 and $50 million in the campus and it will house 300-350 associates, with room for future job growth.
When I asked Swagelok why they chose to expand at this location, Joey Arnold, vice president, continuous improvement and quality, said the workforce, both current and future, is one of the key reasons. The average tenure at this location is 14 years, with some employees having worked at the company for 30 years.
“However, we realize that we have a lot of people approaching retirement at the same time when we have a smaller workforce graduating from college,” said Arnold.
The answer to this workforce dilemma is to prepare current workers for the future and also bring in new ones is training. On-site the company offers classes in Machining 101 and 201.
Offsite they have a unique program with a local community college, Tri-C, and a local manufacturing group Magnet called Right Skills Now. Its focus is on training CNC operators. The program combines 180 hours of training with 320 hours of paid internship. Training is offered both day and evenings. Students scoring 70% or better with perfect attendance in training will be offered an 8-week paid internship at Swagelok Company.
The unusual part of this program is that when a student successfully completes the internship part of the program they are offered a full-time position at Swagelok.
Applicants need only have a high school diploma or equivalent, Right Skills Now is an acceleration of the NAM- Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification Systems. And students earn a National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) Level 1 CNC Operator certification.
These local training programs fit in with the company’s plan to add 1,000 people over the next ten years. Currently, most of the company’s employees are within a 50- mile radius and the company hasn’t had problems finding workers given its strong reputation.
But when bringing new employees into the company, and especially younger ones, the company emphasizes its continuous improvement culture which is part of every function of the organization. Lean training as a tool of innovation is prevalent and the company even has a maker space, which is open to associates.
The company is very open to employee ideas. In fact, in one case they had an intern who suggested an improvement process that the company adopted. As a matter of policy interns at the company work on current projects the company is undertaking.
“We talk about our journey of continuous improvement for every process, every product,” said Arnold. “On the people side, we see continuous improvement as a lifetime learning process for employees both at work and in their personal journeys. We focus on rotating people to different job opportunities and encourage them to think about their career and how they can move to other parts of the company and grow.”
Moving people around the company is standard procedure for Swagelok. Last year where there was an upturn in business due to the semiconductor market, they had 300 people rotate across facilities to help support the business. “That’s core to our business model,” said Theresa Polachek, vice president corporate communications. “We have a flexible and agile workforce. We can both move people to the work and move the work to where our people are located.”
This agile, highly-engaged workforce is what Swagelok is counting on to keep the forward momentum continuing.