Sharon Spielman and courtesy Fabco-Air Inc.
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Nurturing Innovation Can Lead to Employee Longevity

Oct. 24, 2023
In an ever-changing business landscape, where employee turnover rates are high, how can manufacturers retain their workforces and fuel innovation?

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50 million people quit their jobs in 2022, and the turnover rate in the manufacturing sector is roughly 39%.

Machine Design’s 2023 Salary Survey reveals that 41.7% of companies plan to increase the number of engineering jobs; 14% of respondents this year have worked at their company for at least 25 years, and 36% have worked at their current company for less than four years; but 46% of respondents have worked in engineering for at least 25 years, and 16% have worked in engineering for less than four years.

There are struggles to fill and retain manufacturing positions today, and the longevity of most people in engineering needs to improve. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the cost to replace an employee can range from 50% to 400% of their annual salary, depending on the position. And because manufacturing facilities usually require specialized skills and knowledge, training costs can be significant.

READ MORE: Bridging the Manufacturing Chasm

Whatever the reason—from the skills gap to the changing perception of manufacturing to an aging workforce to global competition and outsourcing—the manufacturing sector will require effort from its stakeholders to address the challenges associated with employee longevity.

On the heels of a post-pandemic Great Resignation, however, certain companies have managed to cultivate a culture that not only retains their workforce but fuels continuous innovation. Among the 14% of companies that have managed to retain their workforce for at least 25 years is Fabco-Air Inc., a member of Festo Group based in Gainesville, Fla. 

The pneumatic components maker has helped its customers build machines for more than 60 years thanks to its commitment to foster employee creativity, leverage new technologies and embrace calculated risks. The company was acquired by the German family-owned Festo in 2018 to supplement its metric product line with Imperial English inch products, according to Kevin Cradduck, director of operations at Fabco-Air.

A visit to the facility revealed that employee longevity can be found across all departments. Cradduck says the average tenure is 25 years and succession is balanced with experienced and entry-level employees. Manufacturing Technical Specialist Chris Kazimier is just one of the long-time employees (34 years), and he offered insight into the factors that contribute to at least one company’s sustained success and employee longevity.

READ MORE: Full Automation: The Path to Lights-Out Production

Culture of Innovation, Experimentation

According to Kazimier, at Fabco-Air, innovation is not confined to the boardroom but rather permeates every level of the organization. Employees are motivated and empowered to share their ideas for process improvement.

“From the onset of my employment at Fabco-Air, everyone from the floor-level management to the president of the company has always encouraged the people operating the equipment to put forward new ideas to improve the way a job/task is processed,” Kazimier said. There is encouragement for employees’ perspectives, and this allows them to think outside the box.

“Upper management has always had an open door policy and pools the ideas of many employees before making critical decisions regarding new technology to the production schedules we keep,” Kazimier added. 

When asked for an example of how this company encourages employees to experiment with new ideas and take calculated risks to drive innovation, Kazimier talked about the purchase of its first multi-axis CNC machine in 2007.

“This machine took a process that required five steps and five different people down to two,” he said. “It was through the collaboration of multiple shop floor employees to work together and develop the strategy for this machine’s success—everything from the placement of the tools and why, to the types of tooling used, trials of many different vendors to find tooling that would last through an unattended shift of operations. This was all done with the teamwork from top management to shop floor foremen and machine operators.”

READ MORE: Lights Out Manufacturing: Exploring Full Automation

Keys to Establishing Employee Longevity

Company longevity and employee longevity can be correlated. One factor that has contributed to this company’s longevity, according to Kazimier, is the commitment to customer support. A company’s approach to staying ahead in the market starts by listening to its customers, he said. “The Fabco sales team has always paid strict attention to the customer’s needs and challenged our engineering team to make it happen.”

He adds that “the support we provide our customers and always being willing to go above and beyond” has contributed to sustained success and reputation in the industry.

With 46% of respondents to Machine Design’s Salary Survey having worked in engineering for at least 25 years, there is much knowledge to be passed along. To drive innovation further and preserve institutional knowledge, Fabco-Air has found success with leveraging the expertise of its long-term employees. By developing standard operating procedures and digitalizing various processes, the company ensures that valuable knowledge is shared.

Seasoned employees, like Kazimier, play an instrumental role in mentoring new hires and transferring critical skills. “For the past five years, Fabco has been using the development of S.O.P. to digitalize specific processes and tasks,” he said. “I have personally been working this past year with multiple new hires at the controls of the equipment, teaching the use of G-code and how to set up machines from beginning to final product.”

READ MORE: A Dynamic, Connected Supply Chain

During his tenure, Kazimier has seen a transition and transformation from manual machines to being able to run lights out. “When I started working at Fabco in 1990, the whole shop was filled with manual machinery that required a person or more to process any job. I’ve watched Fabco embrace the CNC technology and continually drive out waste from the company, making Fabco a world-class company,” he said.

For more than three decades, Kazimier, along with dozens of his colleagues, have chosen to stay with Fabco-Air. This loyalty appears to stem from the company’s people and culture. The stability and strong relationships formed at Fabco-Air have enriched Kazimier’s personal and professional life.

“Fabco has been my workplace for all these years because of the great group of people and knowing the grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” he said. “I have been offered many opportunities during my tenure here, and I feel it’s been a good decision. It has provided me with a stable home life and relationships that I hold dear.”

Motivated and empowered employees can lead to continuity and stability, reducing high turnover that disrupts workflow, increases training costs and creates an overall negative work environment. Long-term experienced employees, on the other hand, can provide mentorship and guidance, contributing to overall team cohesion, performance and higher retention stats.

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