Why creating career development path is key to attracting next-generation workers

As a third-generation manufacturing business in New Jersey — Exothermic Molding in Kenilworth — we have the advantage of the long view. One important thing we have learned involves the value of investing in people. Without the right workforce, technology is useless.

How do you do this?

We started by hiring outside human resources professionals because that’s not our area of expertise. What did they tell us? The landscape has changed — and the economic and generational dynamics have changed.

Years ago, our parents had a willing labor pool of often trained, entry-level workers. Persons who would spend a lifetime working at the same job. Today, the younger workforce has different ideas and aspirations about work. They don’t want a dead-end job. They want stimulation. They want growth opportunities. They want a career.

As a result of the deep dive conducted with our HR professionals, we embarked on a top-to-bottom review of everything from wages to job descriptions to incentives and bonuses. Following that, we undertook a complete overhaul of our employee development track, and now, each person hired has a potential career path with the necessary training to advance to the next open position within the company.

At the core of it, if you want to experience repeat business, you must have a high level of customer satisfaction. If you want to achieve customer satisfaction, you need an engaged, motivated workforce. When a company can point to employees that started in entry-level positions and have risen through the ranks into management and supervisory positions, that company will prosper. That has become the culture of Exothermic Molding.

It all starts with recruitment efforts. We found that casting a wide net paid off, and going beyond the traditional means of seeking out employees has paid off. In addition to one-on-one contact at job fairs, we have made direct outreach to the vocational-technical schools in our area, offering student internships that can lead to full-time employment following graduation.

Currently, we are working with officials from the state to develop a certified apprenticeship program to develop future workers. We have welcomed and embraced a diverse, multilingual, multiethnic workforce, as well. We invite recently discharged veterans because we know they have excellent potential for advancement with their military backgrounds and discipline.

Investing in your people also means investing in their work environment. Create a space that people want to work in — one that feels safe, comfortable and pleasant. We have invested in upgrades to our physical plant, making it more employee-friendly and enjoyable. From our point of view, each employee must have an opportunity to progress and do better for themselves, and the best way to be sure that happens is by not just offering them a job. Offer them a career.

Paul Steck is president of Exothermic Molding, a contract manufacturer in Kenilworth that produces plastic parts for high-tech devices in a variety of industries.