At Pennex, Workdays Aren’t Always the Same

LEETONIA, Ohio – The manufacturing world looks a little different from when Chuck Stout entered the industry in 1996.

Stout, president at Pennex Aluminum Co. in Leetonia, says the company has a bright, clean, safe environment, “and that’s the key that people need to take away.” It also gives employees a chance to work with advanced technologies.

“When you look at the level of automation, the level of robotics that we have today, compared to when I started in manufacturing, it’s a night- and-day difference,” Stout says.

Stout joined General Manager Mike Lastic for a recent Brain Gain Navigators webinar. They fielded questions from students about manufacturing and offered more insight into the day-to-day work at Pennex.

Pennex does a lot of work in the automotive sector. Some of its products are related to crash management, such as components that absorb or deflect the energy away from the vehicle to protect the riders, Stout said.

In recent years, the company has found a niche in the electric vehicle market, including some of the first electric vehicles made available to the public.

“We were part of the team that helped design those first electric vehicles and we continue to be on the forefront in that industry right now,” Stout said.

Job opportunities in the shop range from extrusion to production to engineering to quality control while working in teams or individually. But before new employees do anything, they are trained in safety, Lastic said. It’s important to be comfortable working in different sections of the plant because some employees move around during the day, he explained.

“They may not always be in the same area, or the same job every day,” Lastic said. “We move them around and we do a lot of cross-training to make sure that we have flexibility.”

Pennex operates three shifts that work eight hours daily, Monday through Friday and the company will put in Saturday work as needed.  

More technical positions, such as an engineer, require experience. Entry level manual labor applicants with zero experience can expect to make $13 to $15 hourly.

As employees get to know the operation better, they may want to switch their current position, Lastic said. Some may even work their way up to supervisor.

“As those openings come up, we have people bid on them all the time,” he said. “We promote a lot from within. There’s a lot of opportunity once you get in the door.”

With the kind of growth the company expects to see in the next year, there are openings ranging from engineering to management positions, Stout said.

Pennex is undergoing a $58 million expansion at its plant in the Leetonia World Trade Park and will likely need to hire more than 130 once the plant is at full capacity in 2022.

The company currently employs some 170.

“What I always tell people is, if you want to make more money, you’ve got to take on more responsibility,” Stout said. “We’re constantly growing and people are moving up in the organization.”

During the Navigators webinar, Lastic recommended students pay special attention to math and consider a trade school and an internship with the company when they’re old enough.

A new program with the state will allow the company to host internships for 16- and 17-year-olds, Stout noted. Currently, internships are offered to individuals 18 and older.

Finally, Stout advised students to follow the path they find fulfilling. If they don’t like engineering, they might consider robotics or CNC machines. If they like to teach, they could be a training coordinator. And if they like to fix things, they can go the maintenance route. All are possible in manufacturing, he said.

“There’s just so many different paths you can take,” he said.

Pictured: Robotics have increased efficiency at Pennex Aluminum Co. in Leetonia. Creating a safer work environment, robots perform some tasks that were historically dangerous for humans, says Chuck Stout, president of the company. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.