Talent acquisition continues to be top of mind for manufacturers nationwide as difficulty hiring limits many companies’ ability to grow or even serve existing customers. As the workforce has changed significantly in the last several years, these companies have to find creative ways to fill open roles and to connect with the employees of the future. One company, in particular, has had early success with a few innovative programs that could inspire others across the country.
At the 2022 Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo, ACME Industries was given the Business Excellence Award for Excellence in Community Support because the work Director of Human Resources April Elders and others did to personally engage local high school students, creating an exciting win-win opportunity on both sides.
ACME manufactures complex CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machined parts, assemblies, and components for a number of leading OEMs in the Aerospace and Defense, Energy, Mining, and Transportation industries. Because of that complexity, ACME historically required its machinists to bring many years of experience to roles at every level of the company.
More recently, however, candidates with the amount of experience ACME required were not applying for its open positions.
Instead of waiting for applicants to come to ACME, Elders tried a more creative and proactive method of getting in front of them.
Last summer, ACME decided to develop a Junior CNC program and hired outside consultant, Steve Gilbert, to provide the supplemental on-site classroom training during work hours. The program has been an instant success. In 2022, the company saw twice as many applicants as in previous years because of how the role was positioned and advertised, highlighting on-site paid training which includes classroom training.
Even before the Junior CNC program, ACME began thinking outside the box for ways to mold the next generation of manufacturers.
At the end of 2020, the Greater Chicago Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (GCAMP) asked ACME to create a six-week video series for local high school students in Elk Grove Village and Rolling Meadows in place of the on-site visits and internships that were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The series, detailing the process from quote to production, inspired District 214 manufacturing career and technical educator, Jon Pieper, to introduce ACME to Jose Cervantes, one of his star pupils.
“Recruitment is really tough right now, so we’ve decided that we have to train our own people and build them up from the ground level,” Elders said. “We’ve had a lot of success with high schools in this area, so we’re really thankful to the community for promoting manufacturing careers.
“These high school students have a good work ethic and they enjoy figuring things out and creating something with their hands,” Elders said. “They’re coming from really good schools with strong manufacturing programs and great teachers.
Cervantes represents a new generation of manufacturers that wants a stable career with good benefits, realistic pay scales and opportunities for growth instead of struggling to make ends meet as a waitress or a clerk like many other 17 and 18-year olds.
The manufacturing employees of the future still have to have the math skills and critical thinking skills taught in school, but Elders recognizes that college may not be for everybody. By offering tuition reimbursement and paid on-site training through the Junior CNC program, ACME employees get the best of both worlds.
“[Cervantes] set the bar high for the kind of people we want to hire. He doesn’t have his own transportation, yet he has never missed a day and he’s always on time,” Elders said. “Some people in their 20s and 30s are just taking any job while still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. If they’re not sure, those aren’t the people you want.”
Even though Cervantes started before the Junior CNC program was implemented, ACME recently offered an opportunity for him and five other young employees to go through the program together. ACME has also hired two more high school students from Rolling Meadows who have shown real potential, according to Elders.
By recognizing ACME for the innovative way in which it works with the local community, Elk Grove Village continued its commitment to being beyond business friendly.
“Elk Grove Village does a lot for businesses,” Elders said. “Not every village holds events like Expo and free job fairs for employers, so that says a lot.”
The Elk Grove Village Business Development team also introduced Elders and ACME to the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) as well as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Employee Training Grant Program.
ACME is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2023 and has been located in Elk Grove Village since 2008. Today, the company has 140 employees distributed across two buildings in which machinists operate 20 hours per day in two shifts.
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