When it comes to attracting and retaining young talent to the rubber industry, the sector always has seemed to be fighting an image problem. It was viewed as an old, mature industry, and a "dirty" one at that.
But looking at some of the activities going on throughout the industry, it seems that many companies are beginning to figure out ways to turn the tide and attract a steady stream of capable talent and—just as importantly—get them to stick around.
First, about that image. It really shouldn't be that way anymore. The most advanced factories—from tire factories to auto parts suppliers to the clean room environments at plants that produce medical components—are nothing like the visions people conjure up when they think of rubber being a smokestack industry.
Rubber firms also are finding that the company culture is a key to keeping employees. Millennials, in particular, seem to gravitate not only toward places where advancement is possible, but also where community involvement is encouraged. Cooper Standard, for example, allows its work force to participate in charity activities during the work day.
Working with universities continues to be a productive way to pave the way for future workers. Goodyear gains more than half of its hires in research and development slots from the university relations programs that it has developed with a variety of schools.
Ferris State University said its plastics and rubber program that gives students practical training in those industries is enjoying a 100 percent placement program for its students.
Others are starting even earlier. French Oil Mill is hurt by its location in Piqua, Ohio, not being near any metropolitan area. So it has joined with a local career center to start an apprenticeship program where a local high school student rotates between working at the company and attending school.
And Cooper Tire aims a majority of its community outreach activities toward eighth graders, including a big presence around Manufacturing Day. They have built a "Dream Team" of employees that work year-round as ambassadors to tout both the benefits of Cooper as well as all the opportunities that a career in manufacturing can offer.
With programs like these, the rubber industry just might be on its way to shaking that nagging image problem.
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.