YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With its sights set on growth, Extrudex Aluminum Inc. in North Jackson is taking part in a new regional effort to recruit and place workers in manufacturing jobs that could lead to careers.
At its peak, Extrudex has employed up to 210 nonskilled workers. But now it is around 160, says its general manager, Jim Scheuing.
As work ramps up and other employers start dipping into the pool of available workers – such as the Lordstown Motors Corp. plant and TJX Companies HomeGoods distribution center in Lordstown – Extrudex looks to hire 10 workers “if not more,” Scheuing says.
“The aluminum industry is basically the industry of now and the future,” he says. “And there’s plenty of opportunity to rise up through.”
Scheuing should know. While he was a student at Illinois State University studying psychology, he worked summers at an aluminum extrusion plant where his father was personnel director. Since then, he’s worked his way up to hold several management positions in plants in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin before coming to Extrudex, where he began in 2016 as a plant manager.
Because about 80% of the company’s workforce is considered “nonskilled” workers, in that they are trained in-house, Extrudex doesn’t have much of an internal apprenticeship program, Scheuing says. Nonskilled workers include forklift drivers, press operators, materials handlers and individuals who work in packaging, he says.
“In our business, we always think of them as skilled individuals,” Scheuing says. “But in the industry, it’s actually nonskilled. There’s no certification to be a press operator.”
The challenge becomes finding individuals who are qualified to work in manufacturing and who want a career in industry.
To find those workers, Extrudex will be one of the first companies to participate in the Work Advance program through the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition. Last October, the MVMC and the West Central Job Partnership of Pennsylvania were awarded a $2.5 million workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to go toward the RS4 project, or Replicating, Scaling and Sustaining Sector Driven Successes in the Greater Oh-Penn Region.
After “a lot of ramp up activity” through the winter and early spring, the MVMC is ready to launch its Work Advance pre-apprenticeship program, says its executive director, Jessica Borza.
Borza is working with Extrudex and other companies to establish the timelines and recruiting participants, she says, which she expects will be ready in the coming weeks. Work Advance is geared toward recruiting individuals who may or may not have manufacturing experience and giving them all they need for a successful manufacturing career, she says.
“We have packaged together a several-week program that includes everything from freshening up and putting a resume together to some of the technical skills that are required in a manufacturing setting,” Borza says. Such skills include safety protocols, what manufacturing processes are all about and what it’s like to work in a manufacturing environment.
Participants will be on track for entry level jobs typically earning up to $15 hourly with benefits, she says. MVMC is working with companies that have committed to hiring the successful participants and supporting their advancement.
“We’re not satisfied with just getting the participant employed,” Borza says. “We also want to keep coaching them about what it takes to position them for that next level opportunity in those companies.”
Typically, workers at Extrudex begin in the packing and shipping area, Scheuing says. “As we increase and put more press crews on, we’ll move people who have been here for a while up to extrusion.“ Individuals who have a little more technical aptitude may get moved into extrusion earlier.
Extrudex typically begins workers at $12 an hour with benefits, a 401k, health insurance and a fiscal year-end gain sharing bonus, as well as an incentive program after one’s first month, he says.
Aside from aptitude and completing the Work Advance program, Scheuing says what the company looks for are people who show up for work, have a strong work ethic and can follow instructions “because it’s a process industry,” he says. As workers advance, they will be using calipers, micrometers and running complicated extrusion processes, he says.
And there will be opportunities for professional growth, he says, even into management. While business is down year-over-year because of COVID-19, Scheuing is anticipating a 10% to 20% increase “as we move forward.”
The company has physical room to grow as well. In 2014, when Extrudex hit its capacity, it installed a new fully automated extrusion press.
“If we see that happening again, we have land where we could add another press if we need to,” he says. “We have plenty of land to grow.”
As part of its Work Advance program, MVMC will organize cohorts in Mahoning and Columbiana counties with 15 participants in each. The program comprises two weeks of work readiness training and three weeks of technical. To help offset living expenses, participants receive a weekly stipend.
Participants will be assigned a career coach, who will work with them through the initial training and keep up with them after they’ve been hired, Borza says. Coaches will interact with company executives and supervisors to follow up on how the workers are doing, where their strengths lie and how they can advance or reinforce those strengths.
MVMC will work with companies to identify and organize workers who need additional skills to get to the next level.
“So, it’s possible these same participants could have another round of training for their advancement,” Borza says, or at least get an idea of what the next opportunity could be.
The ideal participant could be a high school graduate or another young person who is working a minimum wage job and doesn’t see room for advancement, she says.
“That individual would be able to get some skills pretty quickly and get into a company that’s going to assist their growth,” Borza says. “Our plan is to really go deep and wide with this program. We have been piloting and refining the model over a period of time and with this particular grant funding, we are looking for more with this with these current companies.”
Pictured above: Aluminum is the “industry of now and the future,” with plenty of upward mobility, says Jim Scheuing, general manager at Extrudex Aluminum Inc. Extrudex is one of the first use participate in MVMC’s Work Advance pre-apprenticeship program.