LEETONIA, Ohio – When considering who takes a job at a manufacturing shop, one might not think of a hairdresser. Or a photographer.
However, these are two occupations once held by individuals now working at Pennex Aluminum Co. in Leetonia. Company training programs ensure new hires get what they need to do the job and encourage existing employees to move around within the company if they choose.
Rebecca Peddicord is a product of those training programs. She had worked at a photography studio before taking a job at Pennex as a packer working midnights. From there, she was trained to work as a saw operator and as a CNC (computer numerical control) machine operator, eventually leading that department, she says.
About a year ago, she took a position as training coordinator.
“I’ve always enjoyed training people on the floor when I was an operator. So whenever this position came up, it was a no-brainer for me,” she says.
Peddicord says she likes this job because it gives her a chance to work in the front office in a classroom setting, but still make her way back to the floor to work with employees. She also helps design training programs, such as a new crane training program that Pennex just rolled out.
“I think my experience on the floor and all the different positions that I had helped me get this position. I have a lot of experience doing these jobs that people are being hired in for,” she says. “So I know what training they need for their positions.”
Peddicord recently created a new onboarding schedule to determine what training new hires need during their first week. The company is in the midst of a hiring push as it looks to hire 70 by the end of the year. So coordinating that schedule has been a challenge.
At the top of the hiring funnel is Jera Daye, the company’s talent acquisition specialist. She handles all of the screenings and sets up interviews with applicants – from entry level to leadership roles – who can come from a number of directions, she says.
“That can come from tech schools. That can come from internships. That can come from just a blanket application, where people see our advertisements out in the area, and try to get a position here,” she says.
Certain positions require experience. Some of the more technical jobs, or engineering and finance positions require a four-year degree. But for many of the jobs at Pennex, it’s all about having the right attitude and aptitude to learn the work, Daye says.
“If you have the right attitude, the great thing about Pennex is we can teach you the rest and have done so for a really long time,” she says.
That’s what company President Chuck Stout refers to as the dual bottom-line philosophy.
“The welfare of our employees, we weigh equally with the profitability of our company,” Stout says. “If you want to come in, you want to learn how to operate any piece of equipment that we have here. We can teach you that as long as you come with the right attitude.”
Nicholas Pondillo worked mainly in construction while living in Austintown before moving to Salem. Not wanting to drive back into Austintown for work, he learned of Pennex, applied and was hired.
Pondillo, taking his first in-warehouse job, learned how to use some of the equipment for which he didn’t have experience.
“What I had to learn was the overhead bridge cranes here,” Pondillo says. “Those were something new I’ve never seen.”
Daye herself came from a sales background, “which really helped me because I sell the company quite a bit now,” she says.
Daye, a native of Youngstown’s North Side, left home after high school and lived away from the area for most of her adult life, she says.
When she returned, she applied for a job at Pennex “on a whim” because it was 30 minutes from her mother’s house.
“I applied here never thinking I would get the job,” she says. “I got a phone call and was able to sell myself to this company. And I guess the rest is history.”
Daye started in a generalist position, but showed a knack for recruiting, she says.
Over the years, as she’s helped recruit workers for the company’s expansions, she also was able to branch into other areas such as compensation analysis.
“I enjoy that it’s never the same every day,” she says. “If I continue to ask for more work, they will continue to give it to me, which sounds like a turnoff for some people.
“But if as long as I keep asking for challenges, and I keep getting them, then it keeps me happy in my current role. And it helps me build my own skill set for my future, which I appreciate.”
For Daye and Peddicord, the most rewarding part of their jobs is seeing individuals continue their careers at Pennex.
“You see them already moving up in the company in the short amount of time that they’ve been here,” Peddicord says. “It’s rewarding to see that.”
The aforementioned hairdresser has had two promotions since starting at the company, Daye notes.
“When I ask people what do they want to be doing and they say, ‘Something else,’ we start rolling that wheel in our heads for what their advancement opportunities would be,” she says.
Daye and Peddicord encourage anyone to apply for jobs with the company, particularly women.
In 2020, women comprised 29.5% of the manufacturing workforce in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We have several young women who just got hired recently and they had no manufacturing background,” Peddicord says. “If it’s something you’re interested in, or you think you’re interested in, just give it a try. I never thought I would be working in a factory but that’s what I love.”
Taylor Bean, a saw operator, is one of the more recent hires at Pennex. The 2017 graduate of Leetonia High School says she always considered pursuing a career in manufacturing.
“I was going to school and I wanted a little bit more experience in the work world and I wanted to see how things operate,” she says. “I’m glad that I did because I really enjoy this kind of work.”
Although she had no experience with manufacturing, Bean says the job has been pretty easy to learn. The hands-on work, however, took some getting used to, she says.
“I really enjoy the people that I work with,” Bean says. “I feel like it’s a safe area to work in. We watch out for each other all the time and do our work and just make sure that we can do it the safest way that we can.”
Pictured: Pennex employees walk by the safety wall upon entering or leaving the job floor. Their traced handprints remind them of why they work safely.