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Training Talent

Expediting the Learning Curve...Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

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MCN Editor Beth Gainer Service center companies look to quickly bring new hires up to speed on all aspects of the operation.

For service centers, and most other companies in the extensive manufacturing sector, landing quality employees has become one of the most pre-eminent challenges they face. Executives in every sector lament the difficulty industrial enterprises have in filling open positions, even during the increased unemployment levels the U.S. economy is currently experiencing.

Yet, landing that new associate is not even half the battle. Getting them up to speed on your operations so they may begin to capitalize on the potential you recognized is the next step in the ongoing human resources procedure.

Roswell, Ga.-based Kloeckner Metals has piloted a job shadow training program for new hires. “The shadow training platform is for new employees to fast track and, in a more structured way, learn various machines and positions within the company,” says Amanda Middendorf, vice president of human resources for Kloeckner. “It’s structured to ensure that employees are really learning, not just what the skilled operator is doing, but why.”

Several training tracks for veteran staff exist. “One track is for commercial staff for people in sales, and one is for operational staff – in particular – operators or plant managers,” she says. “A third overarching track is for future leaders, for existing leaders who are building their skills.”

The company also has an intern program targeted at students recruited from universities, colleges, community colleges and technical schools. “The interns work on real projects, real initiatives that we have in the company, and the interns add real value,” says Middendorf. “Some of them have very proudly presented ways that have saved time and real dollars in efficiency initiatives in our plants or did analyses of cost savings around our logistics, so these interns are really making a big difference.”  

Kloeckner eventually hires some of its interns full-time. Eighty percent of interns are interested in coming back to work at the company, according to Middendorf. “They are great additions to the team because they have gotten to know Kloeckner through the intern program and are really excited to start their career here,” she says.

Kloeckner Metals’ rotational management training program is targeted toward recent graduates hoping to get started in their careers. This program “is aimed at helping fast-track development of future managers in our plants,” she says. “We’ve identified that one of the most important roles in our business is the operations manager, and we want to be preparing folks to take on those roles in the future.”

Olympic Steel prides itself on its Olympian Training Program, a leadership program for stellar experts on the floor. Graduates of the program become Olympian Trainers. “Each Olympian Trainer will be partnered up with a new employee, and we follow an entire training checklist. The trainer will be the mentor for the new employee the first 90 days of employment,” says Cassy Powers, regional human resources manager for Cleveland-based Olympic.

“This program has been very successful because it empowers our [seasoned] employees on the floor and gets the new employees interested,” she says. “It also promotes a lot of teamwork and synergy between the employees that have been here and the new people coming in. They feel more welcome.”

While the pandemic made travel to various Olympic Steel locations impossible, on-site training continued. “Each individual division has its own set of trainers, so when employees start, even during the pandemic, we’re still following our training process,” says Powers.

Olympic Steel offers a new career succession training program. “We are a big believer in career succession; we have a lot of really great success stories at Olympic from people coming in and building careers through us,” she says. “We launched a great new employee-recognition program called ‘I am Olympic Steel,’ which focuses on employees with success stories in succession. An article on our website is dedicated to how they built a career here, so we’re trying to promote that internal teamwork.”

The company also offers a Focus on Diversity program, identifying the various diverse cultures within the organization, bringing them together and promoting inclusivity.

Century Metals and Supplies Inc., Miami Gardens, Fla., is an ISO-certified operation, so standardized employee training is already in place. An employee receives one-on-one training pertinent to his or her position and department. Century Metals and Supplies has experienced talent which trains new hires, but training new talent can still be challenging. “Sometimes you’ll luck out that a [new] employee is trainable, and you can see that they have the capabilities to learn a different position or in different areas,” says Henry Valdivia, general manager.

“At O’Neal Manufacturing Services, each of our plants is responsible for executing training for all employees,” says Amy Gartman, director of human resources for the Birmingham, Ala.-based O’Neal Manufacturing Services. “Our training consists of in-person, online and on-the-job training.” She adds that supervisors and their teams also have ongoing conversations throughout the year to review career path goals and create individual development plans.

“We have a multiprong approach to training,” says Renée Kirk, chief of staff for Flack Global Metals. Besides taking master classes, sometimes offered as a partnership with a vendor, employees do circuit training.

“We think it’s really important to have a holistic view [of the workplace]. Just because you’re in accounting, doesn’t mean you don’t need to understand everything that the customer service team or the quality team is doing,” she says. The company thus partners people from different departments so they can learn and appreciate all other positions. “Employees have a well-rounded experience and understand that ‘When I do this in my role, this other person is dealing with this,’ and it makes you much more aware of your impact on other people in your organization,” says Kirk.

During the height of the pandemic, training was supplemented with instruction in the protocols each company instituted. Across the segment, HR professionals acknowledge that safety is a top priority.

“The most urgent and important part of our new-employee training is around safety, health and wellness, which is really critical,” says Kloeckner’s Middendorf.

Social distancing, mask wearing and limited exposure to the facility became commonplace at service centers. The implementation of more widespread vaccinations and relaxing state and federal recommendations may change some practices, but it won’t alter the industry’s commitment.

“Safety will continue to be a top priority in our business,” says Gartman.


O’Neal Manufacturing Services provided on-the-job-training in groups pre-pandemic, and continues to train employees while now adhering to pandemic guidelines.
(Photo courtesy O’Neal Manufacturing Services)