Ask any manufacturer these days what their biggest challenges are, and most of them will have “labor issues” on their shortlist. Fact is, it’s harder than ever to find good people. And those who are willing and ready to work usually don’t want to get their hands dirty.

Labor challenges have been lingering over the industrial world for years. The recent pandemic has only complicated the situation. One big reason is that it’s more favorable to work at home, and more opportunities to do so are now available. When looking at the bigger picture, the demand for workers is at all-time highs and positions are out-pacing job seekers. The plating industry is certainly no exception to these challenges, old and new.

Chemistry for PlatingLet’s face it: plating parts is not a glamorous job. It’s not performed in an office or a robust restaurant-like setting. However, thanks to technological and safety advancements, among other factors, today’s shops are more hospitable than those of yesteryear. Though the environment is overall much safer and cleaner, shop employees are still dealing with chemicals, rectifiers and plating units. Also, the facilities can get uncomfortable at times, especially during the warmer months. Many people don’t wish to work under these conditions. Further, entry-level platers do not make big money. All of this makes attracting new hires rather difficult.

With unemployment low and competition for workers fierce, the problem is further exacerbated. Adding to this: as mentioned earlier, more people want to work remotely, but this is not an option with plating. Employees must be on-site developing necessary skill sets to get the job done and keep the company viable. Like anything else, it takes time to master the profession.

Education To The Rescue!

Education is a key part of the solution. However, schools do not have programs for developing electroplaters, or other important “hands-on” specialty trades. Some companies have had success in partnering with high schools, technical schools and colleges/universities. By working with these organizations, seeds are planted earlier to help cultivate a future workforce. Programs may include open houses, paid apprenticeships, or on-campus speaking engagements.

For instance, in Connecticut (where AEP is located), the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board (NRWIB) has recently developed a new educational plating program. Known as METAL (Master Electroplating Through Applied Learning), launches this fall. AEP is proud to be one of the participating manufacturers, along with other finishing companies, and chemical providers. The program allows students to participate in hands-on learning. They will gain key skills for applying finishes, as well as the science and technologies that power the processes.

On the Job Training

While programs such as METAL will help nurture interest at an earlier age, ultimately, it’s up to the plating companies and other manufacturers to provide full-scale on-the-job training programs and other incentives to make professions more attractive. This requires getting candidates to understand that plating is a worthwhile profession that serves an important role in manufacturing. Companies should also offer competitive compensation packages, sign-on bonuses and other benefits where appropriate to entice individuals to sign on.

Once employees become more valuable and develop their skill set, it’s critical to retain them. Some professionals suggest conducting periodic STAY interviews to ensure the employee is still pleased with their position. The company must also be mindful of compensation packages, and keep up with surrounding or competing businesses. To ensure continued success, training and “upskilling” need to be part of the process, to the mutual benefit of both employers and employees.