For Ketchie President and Owner Courtney Silver, retention all starts with culture. “I’m really happy to be here” is a phrase she hears often on her shop floor—and it tells her that the work culture at her company is in good shape.
- “A culture of empowerment that’s built on trust really fuels our team I think,” said Silver, who is the chair of the NAM’s Small and Medium Manufacturers Group. “They find so much dignity and purpose in fulfilling our mission here at Ketchie.”
Maintaining a high-performing, motivated and engaged workforce is a top priority for the third-generation precision machine shop in Concord, North Carolina, and Silver has implemented a number of strategies to keep it that way.
Team recognition: Every Wednesday, during Ketchie’s shift meeting, employees have the opportunity to recognize their team members for any achievement, big or small.
- “Recognition can be about anything,” says Silver. “It can be ‘Fred over there was able to cut five minutes of cycle time off this particular part because he changed the process’ or ‘Mary saved us money by switching out some tooling.’ We then post the feedback in the break room and email it out to the entire organization.”
- “There are so many things that can go wrong in manufacturing just trying to get a part out the door, and this is an opportunity to think about all the amazing things we’re doing,” she explained.
Silver also posts worker productivity charts every week. If workers meet their productivity goals and their indirect time goals, they get performance points, which are redeemable for gift cards.
- “I think people want to know if they’re on a winning team,” Silver said. “If you’re winning, it feels good. We’re all on the bus going in the same direction.”
Motivator Award: Each year, employees can also nominate a peer for the “Motivator Award,” which goes to the employee who best exemplifies Ketchie’s core values: to do the right thing, be agile and embrace continuous improvement.
- To honor the winner, Silver puts together a tribute video of team members sharing their thoughts about the employee and hosts a company brunch in celebration (to which the employee’s family is invited).
- “The winner also receives their own special parking spot, an extra day of vacation and a $1,000 gift certificate to the Marriott to take vacation with their family,” says Silver.
- “The team member that won the award last year had tears in his eyes, so I know that it’s been really impactful,” she continued.
Community service: Ketchie’s employees are passionate about giving back to the community. Through service projects, Ketchie supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of America as well as Cooperative Christian Ministry, which offers programs that relieve hunger and food insecurity and address homelessness and housing costs.
Opportunity Knocks: Silver isn’t only working to retain and support current employees, but also to train and mold the young people who will be tomorrow’s machinists.
- This year, Silver started an internship program for high school students named Opportunity Knocks. It allows students to shadow experienced machinists in factory environments while earning school credit.
- The interns go through a curriculum created by Edgerton Gear, Inc., called Craftsman with Character, a 16-week course that helps students explore the role of character in a professional trades environment. Silver said the course, which includes leadership and manufacturing-focused exercises, is taught at Ketchie four days a week in two-hour sessions. Three days of the week are job shadowing machinists on the shop floor, and one day is in a classroom setting at the shop discussing character traits and soft skills. The conversations lean on discovering what’s important in life and what might make them happy.
- “They absolutely love these high schoolers,” said Silver about the two mentors at Ketchie, who each have more than 30 years’ experience. “It gives them an opportunity to share their entire work career: what they’re doing, experiences learned along the way. It’s been neat to see.”
Investing in technology: Silver knows her team wants to work for a company that’s growing and investing in technology. She recently purchased a machine-tending collaborative robot, which takes over machinists’ “least favorite” part of the job—changing parts while the machines run.
- “I interviewed somebody recently who said to me in the interview, ‘It’s really good to see that you want to grow and that you’re making these big investments,’” said Silver. “You’re buying new technology that excites them. They want to be part of that mission and growth.”
The last word: Silver shared some advice for companies that might be struggling with workforce retention.
- “Use employee surveys, focus groups or roundtable discussions to see what you need to do or should do. Everyone wants to be heard. It’s important to listen.”
The NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate, the Manufacturing Institute, has many initiatives to help employers retain and develop their teams. For a deeper dive, check out this study by the MI on improving retention and employee engagement. The MI will also explore retention challenges and solutions at its Workforce Summit in Atlanta on Oct. 16–18. Click here for more information.