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Editorial: Industry needs to address image to draw talent

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It's no secret that the rubber industry has an image problem. Even Joe Walker—one of the sector's biggest cheerleaders—readily acknowledges that fact.

The official of Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Solutions and a past chairman of the ACS Rubber Division talks about rubber shops where workers are filthy from head to toe, and others where visitors are told not to touch the handrails.

Because of such image issues, it is no surprise that despite the fact there are numerous rubber firms in the U.S. looking for staff of all skill levels, they still have trouble drawing talent into the business.

So perhaps those in the rubber industry need to be doing a better PR job, because there are plenty of good things in rubber to use as recruiting tools. Many prospective engineers may not know about the technology that goes into tires, or into the rubber components in an automobile. Other sectors where rubber plays a key role have ample opportunities to conduct research and take the industry into new technologies.

And anyone who has been around rubber long enough has been in facilities where you would never know rubber was being processed. From modern tire factories to state-of-the-art auto supplier plants to the clean rooms of medical component firms, there is a lot for the industry to be proud of.

A number of rubber companies are getting innovative in their recruitment efforts. Freudenberg-NOK has a program in which new graduates spend time at various facilities learning a whole range of disciplines, before it is determined the best fit for the candidate. And Gates Corp. is emphasizing the key role rubber plays in the world, hoping to draw job seekers in by selling them on all the good that these parts can do.

Walker said those in the rubber industry need to start educating students about the business as early as possible.

Those in the sector realize how key that is because they know that once somebody gets hooked on rubber, it often ends up being a career-long commitment. It's kind of like the Hotel California: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."