Finding, Hiring and Keeping Good People

Getting The North American PCB Industry Off Death Row Part 3

Let me tell you a story, my story. In the early 70’s I was driving a forklift in a huge textile factory in Lewiston, Maine for the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour. I worked the second shift, so I might have gotten a little more for the shift premium, but I can’t remember.

The job was okay, but the money was not. My wife still talks about saying to my mom that if I could make a hundred dollars a week that would be great, we would be in fat city.

I was looking for other jobs, when through a friend of my wife’s we heard about this place in Lisbon, Maine that was looking for something called “electro-platers”…whatever that was. So, we drove up there and yes, we were both hired on the spot…for a whopping $2.65 an hour! That was pretty exciting to say the least.

The company was Maine Electronics, a division of Rockwell International, which some of you will remember was one of the leaders in the defense and aerospace industry.

I was Program Coordinator which was Rockwell speak for what we would now call an expeditor. There were actually five of us Program Coordinators and our job was to track and move the product (these things called printed circuit boards) through the process.  

These were of course pre-computer days so we five had to move quickly around the 74,000 square foot facility looking for our boards, keeping track of them, and moving them from operation to operation.

We got there at five in the morning so that we could have a full status report for the 7 AM meeting with the president, the supervisors, the managers, and the quality people. In all there were about 30 people around a huge table. And one after another we program coordinators would drone on about where each part number was. And there were hundreds! Then every so often, pretty often really, if a part had not moved, the president would interrupt us and start shouting (and I mean shouting) at  the supervisor of the department that was putting us behind schedule, describing to him the various very creative things that would happen to his posterior if those parts did not move!

It was terrifying at first, but then it got to be exciting as hell!

As I got to know more about the job, the product, and the company, I fell in love. I was part of something big! Something that mattered! Rockwell was building products from the Minuteman missile, to the F-111 fighter, to the Motorola Viking, and  later we were  prime for the Shuttle.

And I fell in love with the work. A year later there were seven program coordinators, all of us long haired almost college grads working 80 hours a week and loving it. I remember one Thursday my boss had been looking for me so he could give me my paycheck (loaded with all of the great time and a half overtime  money!) and my saying as he handed it to me “oh yeah and we get paid for this too!”

Now here’s the thing. I was an English major and a writer, a complete right brain guy. I was going to be Stephen King before there was a Stephen King, so this left brain world I was working in had nothing to do with me. You would have never heard me say, “when I grow up, I want to work in a factory. I want to build printed circuit boards.”

But once I was exposed to it, once I started living it, I loved it.

We all did. And here is something that Rockwell did that was genius and something we can learn from even today. They hired and trained and then nourished us, not only for our position, but for our future as well. What started as a position could become a career. In hindsight all seven of us were being watched and evaluated for our next step in the organization.

Eventually we moved on to our next step. Some of us went into supervision, some into Quality, and some into sales, which Rockwell called “contract administration.” That’s where I went and where I still am today, in a way. 

And here is the interesting thing. Many of those young people I worked with ended up having life-long careers in the industry, working for companies like Martin, Lockheed, Honeywell, and Teradyne. 

That was a long time ago, but the message is the same. You don’t offer people a job… you offer them a career. You offer them a future. 

Using my story here proves that. We were a group of young men and women who were not sure what we were going to do with our lives until we went to work for Rockwell, and then we found our  way into lifelong  careers. Not one of us would have sought this work. Not one of us even knew about this kind of business at all. The only reason we knew of Rockwell at all was because our dad’s power tools were made by Rockwell. 

Now I can hear you saying something like, “Sure that was a long time ago, that would not work today.” I disagree. That was what Rockwell did back then but there are things we can do today. In fact, we do have more advantages today than Rockwell had back then:

  • Young people are coming out of college with large loans and no idea how they are going to pay them off. We can offer them a solution to that problem. We can offer them a future.
  • This new generation wants to build things. They are more interested in this than their older siblings who were more software prone. We can show them how to build things because that’s what we do.
  • They want to do things that matter. Sure, I had the Shuttle. But today we are building even more products that matter from Electric Vehicles to private space ships to fantastic new medical devices that are changing the world. We build things that matter.
  • They are looking for interesting and challenging work, and we sure have that. It is interesting and it sure as heck is challenging.

My point is that our hiring challenge can be overcome with vision, creativity, and an understanding of what we need to provide our employees to inspire them to join our adventure.

This series will continue next week when we will talk further about finding, hiring and most importantly. keeping the right people for our floor positions.  And yes, there are ways to overcome that challenge as well. It’s only common sense.