Don’t hire the best process technicians

  • by Dan Sheeran
  • Feb 8, 2022
Dont hire the best process technicians banner image

Don’t hire the best process technicians

by Dan Sheeran, training department supervisor

“Happy New Year!” everyone shouted. It was the start of 1988, but I was not that excited.

At 26 years old, I had no degree, no car, a lousy job I hated, and no prospects. Except for one. I had an interview scheduled at a plastics factory on the northwest side of Milwaukee.

Somehow the employment gods smiled on me that day and, despite having no relevant experience, the company offered me an entry-level job as a packaging operator.

I told myself that dressing nicely, showing up on time and being positive and polite is what made the difference. However, as I look back, it was just meant to be.

Once on board, I was able to learn enough about the job to become an “adequate” employee, not terrible, not a superstar, pretty much average – except for one thing: I showed up every day. And the more I showed up on time, every day, the more opportunities were presented to me.

From technician to trainer

Fast forward to 2012 when I was fortunate enough to be asked to develop and lead a Training Department that would recruit, hire and train our process techs.

The irony of the situation still stops me in my tracks. One day I was nervously applying for a manufacturing job and the next thing I knew, I became the person doing the interviewing and making hiring decisions. Crazy how that works!

When I first started looking for people to fill open positions, I was focused on finding the “perfect” candidates. However, I quickly learned those people don’t exist. And people with stellar resumes who “can’t miss” usually have some hidden issues.

Hiring the wrong person is costly on many levels. Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way and I carry those lessons with me whenever I talk to applicants.

Where is the ideal process tech hiding

Historically, finding skilled process technicians has been extremely challenging. Most are already working, and the remaining talent pool is small. This applies not just to Milwaukee or the Midwest, but the nation.

Competitiveness among employers for workers was the driving force behind our decision to create our own in-house training program for our techs at HellermannTyton. Simply put, the skilled help was not available, and formalized plastics schooling was almost non-existent.

This problem was not going to solve itself, so I started thinking, “What if?”

What if we created our own training program and used a Technical College model that blended classroom, computer and hands-on training … what would that look like?

Fortunately, my boss at the time had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He encouraged and supported my vision 100 percent. Whatever I needed, I got. Talk about someone having your back.

Wanted: Happy, reliable, inexperienced people

The Training Department had humble beginnings: one person, a laptop and a cubicle. It became immediately clear that the concept had potential. The tricky part was choosing people to go through the program. Where would they come from?

In my opinion, reimagining the way we thought about recruiting, interviewing and hiring people was a total game changer. We started to make hiring decisions based on attitude, character, work ethic, trainability and potential instead of choosing only those applicants who had a resume with “relevant experience.”

Before long, we were training all sorts of people with unique work histories and backgrounds. Heck, we once hired a skiing instructor!

As time went on and our program evolved, we began to see big returns on the investment we were making in our trainees. We were developing consistent, sound employees who were making steady progress in learning a trade from the ground up. Over time, our in-house training program became a strong recruiting tool for potential candidates. Once applicants were told about the structured training we provide, they seemed to look at the company in a different light. In some cases, it was enough to make them accept our offer over others they had been considering.

Unique circumstances forced us to change the way we think about training, leading us to some creative solutions that happened to work for HellermannTyton, and I am confident would work for similar operations.

Build a reliable manufacturing team

A few of the same buzzwords and phrases always seem to pop up when the conversation turns to manufacturing these days: engagement, retention and skills gap. The in-house training that has been developed at HellermannTyton has made a positive impact in all three of these areas. In addition, putting our employees in a “trainer” role is helping them learn new skills while they teach others.

It’s like baseball. We assemble a team full of “singles” hitters who are in the lineup every day, avoid injuries and do many things that don’t show up in the box score. I would much rather have that than a team full of sluggers who strike out a lot, demand special treatment and are on the disabled list all the time.

As my years with the company become decades, I am continually impressed by employees who come in every day and consistently do the right thing, whether someone is watching or not. There will always be a place in a manufacturing plant for those types of individuals. Having superstar employees is great, but their light has a tendency to fade over time.

The arc of my career has been a slow and steady one, very similar to that of my grandfather – 50 years on the railroad. And my dad – 45 years for the city. And my brother – 38 years at the same company.

After 33 years in the business, I am “the old guy” by today’s standards. Interesting now to look back to the day I started at HellermannTyton, just an eager 20-something looking for a job I wouldn’t hate. Today’s problems are markedly different than those we faced in the past, but it’s encouraging to know there are some new strategies available that may provide some help.

Manufacturing and labor will continue to evolve. Organizations that find a way to adapt their training practices will have the advantage.


author Dan Shreen

About the Author:

Dan Sheeran, HellermannTyton’s training department supervisor, joined the company in 1988 as a process technician. According to him, “training” is a nice word, but he has always looked at it more as “building.” After spending more than half his life building careers at HellermannTyton, Danny retired in October 2021. Before leaving, he said, “I never felt I ‘have to’ go to work. The way I saw it, I ‘got’ to do something I truly enjoyed in an environment where I knew my efforts were appreciated.”


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