Never in my 25 year career of managing processing plants have I ever been faced with such a daunting problem. I now work with cutting edge technology. We have the best processing equipment in the industry. We are located strategically to deliver our perishable product to many major markets literally overnight. Our parent corporation has us well funded as it gives us the experience and clout of the largest company in the industry. Our suppliers run to our beck & call. And our competitors carefully watch what we do, but otherwise stay out of our way so our wake won’t capsize their smaller boats. So the only thing lacking in this formula for success is our local work force. The man in the trenches, or more accurately described, the man in the plant.
Because of the nature of our business, the facility is located VERY rurally. Even the small town of 3000 people, which we claim in our mailing address, is fifteen miles from our plant. And the closest larger cities are about 90 miles away.
Since moving here, four and a half years ago, I have struggled to maintain an adequate staff. The pool of potential full time permanent workers just isn’t very large here. Along with working closely with our government employment agency both locally and state wide, we have worked with all the temporary employment services who offer any service to our area. Anyone, far or near who can appropriately show that they can legally work are given opportunity with us. We found some success with an international employment company who could fill the arduous government paper work requirements allowing a workforce from Asia to come fill our man power deficit. The problem with that government program was that it was only allowed on a temporary basis.
So now for the last three months, we have been back to square one, and struggling to find the manpower to keep the plant running. Corporate officers and management have spent many hours brainstorming for a solution. Any innovative thinking “outside the box” is quickly squelched by our corporate lawyers and personnel experts.
While all of this is going on, I have been forced to work my undersized staff to the breaking point. An average work day has been extended to twelve plus hours. Those who are willing are encouraged to work extra days in the week. Some have not logged less than 70 hours a week for four months. When I do find someone to add to the workforce, they are so quickly overwhelmed with the long days that they won’t stay. This vicious cycle forces my core of “superhero” workers, who have stayed with me through all of this, to continue on with the long days and longer weeks.
“What else could I do? I have tried everything that corporate will let me try.”
“No you haven’t.”
“What?” I didn’t know my Beautiful Wife was really listening to my rant.
She continued, “Why do you have to work them soooo long?”
I knew what she meant by the question but I had no choice. “We HAVE to run that long BECAUSE I don’t have enough help.”
“But they just quit anyway, so why don’t you break it up. Instead of having one new hire working the whole shift, have two share one position. One could work in the morning, and then have the other one work that same position for the afternoon. Why do you have to hire only people who are available to work 7 days a week, or even a full 40 hours a week? Why can’t you hire people who want or can only work a few days a week? Hire enough part time people fill out your full time positions.”
We were driving to town as she described to me the one obvious thing I hadn’t tried. It was something that no one from all that corporate level experience and talent could think of. And it hit me so hard that I almost ran off the road. I had been so buried in the forest that I couldn’t see the trees anymore.
The next day, I took out large a newspaper ad offering my new policy of part-time flexible positions.
I have now worked for about a month with my part time work force and I have discovered an unexpected bonus. Not only have I added to my available man power and taken the punch out of the long days by splitting the shifts up, but I have found some wonderful workers who really do want to work but wouldn’t have considered the full time job because of family responsibility. Like my Beautiful Wife, there are many ladies who are more than capable of handling the job, and who plan to be around for a long time. Work performance is up. Morale is up. And I give credit to my Beautiful Wife, who isn’t just another pretty face.