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  • 12/10/2014
  • Plastics provides careers in Northeastern Wisconsin

    • Like nearly every other manufacturer in Gannett Wisconsin Media's State of Opportunity series, the plastics manufacturers need electrical and mechanical technicians and maintenance people, in addition to workers trained in their specific processes.

      "The workforce is not big enough, and everybody is fighting for those technical positions," said Mike Rekitzke, president and CEO of N.E.W. Plastics Corp., which employs about 200 people.

      Getting past those positions, however, the company has many other jobs, including in warehousing, packaging and production.

      Like most manufacturers in America today, N.E.W. Plastics is technology driven.

      "Because of the products we make, there's certainly a lot of measurement requirements," Rekitzke said. "You have to be able to read things like calipers and take gram weights. We are very, very automated."

      Specific production skills are not an absolute for getting into the industry. N.E.W. Plastics and Nicolet Plastics each provide internal training, but to get in the door applicants need the soft skills: math, communication, ability and desire to learn, ability to work in a team environment and dependable work habits.

      "We are not finding a lot of individuals in our area that we can draw from that have skills in manufacturing and skills in plastics. We can teach them that," said Bob MacIntosh, president and CEO of Nicolet, which has 76 employees.

      Entry-level jobs at N.E.W. Plastics are in the $12 range. At Nicolet Plastics, entry level is $10 for production workers, but the company has a unique method for allowing workers to improve their pay.

      "We don't have job titles," MacIntosh said. "We have a skills matrix, with something like 180 quadrants in it. Each skill has a degree of difficulty and the time is takes to earn it. For every 10 ... they can earn a 50-cent raise. You can sort of pick your way through it. There's about $9 worth of raises they could be accumulating."

      N.E.W. Plastics also offers internal training, with defined paths for advancement.
      "Part of the criteria for someone to move, they must have completed a certain amount of training before we even look at them," Rekitzke said.

      Like other manufacturers, the companies face demographics, including an aging workforce and not enough replacement workers.

      Each company works with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to address workforce issues. N.E.W. gets workers through the school's intern program and works with Algoma High School's Wolf Tech in-house company.

      "For the skilled positions, we try to get out in front of that," Rekitzke said. "It gives us a nice feeder system for people to view what we do here and understand the technical nature of it. It's a pretty good career path."

      MacIntosh said they try to convince parents that a four-year school isn't the right path for everyone, and that manufacturing plants today are clean, well-lit repositories of technology.

      "In most manufacturing plants there is more computing power than in most schools," he said.

      Location can be a challenge. N.E.W. is close enough to Green Bay to draw skilled people, but 75 percent of its workers are from Kewaunee County. Nicolet, whose home in Mountain is even more rural, needs people with experience in plastic processing, which are not easy to find up north.

      "We continue to expand and we're drawing people as we go," MacIntosh said. "We are reaching the saturation limit of the number of people we can draw from in this area."

      It has looked at expanding elsewhere, but remains committed to its home community 70 miles northwest of Green Bay. Though it's rural location has challenges, MacIntosh said it's perfect for the right people.

      "One of the benefits of working at Nicolet is no matter what shift you are on, when you head home you are on vacation. Everybody else has to drive here," he said.







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