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Help wanted: Need another molder operator

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Best-In-The-World Woodworking has an immediate opening for a motivated individual to work in our upscale custom woodworking operation. Primary responsibilities include operating and maintaining our molding and grinding equipment and all other related duties. This is a full-time position, pay commensurate with experience, vacation and benefits included.

In my business, we manufacture molder tooling and sell related parts. We also repair molders and components for customers from Maine to Hawaii and beyond. On a typical day I can speak with several business owners and managers and the one question I am asked time and again is, “Where can I find a good molder operator?”

Before I started my current business in 2008, I owned a molding and millwork company for 23 years in southeastern Massachusetts, and found myself asking the same question. I soon realized that for the most part you just don’t find competent molder operators; you have to develop them.

Because of the nature of the position, molder operators are not the most common species on the planet. The good ones are almost always revered by their company owners or managers. To find a good molder operator looking for work is a rare occurrence indeed. If you are posting an ad for a molder operator and you get several quick replies, be leery. If someone has a lot of talent and is not employed, there is most likely a very good reason. Jumping at the chance to snag a quick replacement for the person you just lost can put you in a worse position that you are without one — trust me on this. Not to say you can’t find a gold nugget just laying there on the ground as you’re out for a walk, but it’s never happened to me and I’ve been looking. The quality molder operator, like the gold nugget, remains valuable because of the scarcity.

Search within

My first response to the question of finding good molder operators is always to look around your company and try to develop someone from within. Hey, you already know these people and should be able to assess if you would like to invest in them further and train them on the molder line. That being said, don’t just throw someone at the job and say “you’re it.” Find the right person.

I know a person that trains CNC operators at the customer’s site after the equipment is installed. This trainer arrived at a company and met the owner who just happened to have a very nice new luxury-class vehicle parked just outside his office. After introductions, the trainer commented on how nice the vehicle was and the owner offered the keys for a test drive. The trainer politely declined the offer and asked to be shown to the CNC machine and meet with the trainee.

After several hours of working with the employee, the trainer went back to the owner and told him that the trainee wasn’t grasping instructions and might not be the right person for the task. The owner rejected the observations and asked for the training to continue. The trainer paused for a moment and then asked the owner for the keys to his car. The owner quickly pulled the keys from his pocket and said “So you reconsidered my offer.” The trainer said, “No, the operator I’ve been trying to train has been talking about how nice a car it is and he said he would love to take it for a ride.” At that point the owner pulled back the keys and returned them to his pocket, saying, “I wouldn’t trust that kid with my new car.” The trainer replied, “Yet you’re willing to let him operate a machine that is worth three times the cost of your vehicle. Would you like to reconsider my request for another operator?”

Go fish

Training with some people is like trying to get a duck wet: no matter how much water you pour on it, it just isn’t going to sink in. So if you really don’t have someone within your company that is a viable candidate, ask around and look for someone with mechanical ability and a disposition for organization. If you find this person, they are usually a great prospect for a molder operator. If your search comes up empty, don’t despair. Take the next day off and go fishing for a new employee.

Get a bunch of business cards and visit service companies that pay minimal wages to typically younger employees. Try fast-food restaurants or convenience stores; anyplace where the employees meet and greet customers. Look for the person that is working hard and has a good attitude and not just checking out the customers or standing around talking with other employees. Discretely hand this person a business card and ask for a call about an immediate opening. If you don’t get a call within a day or two, keep fishing.

While you’re looking, don’t discount a new and rapidly growing segment of workers known as the “too young to retire and too old to hire.” Although these workers might be past the prime of their working lives, anyone that will give you dependable attendance and comes with a well-developed work ethic is worth the investment. They might not be with you for the duration of your business, but their loyalty and devotion will have made it well worth the experience.

Finding a good competent machine operator of any kind is not as easy as taking a drive to the store and picking a nice one off the shelf. As I stated earlier, it’s better to develop one from within your company. The key here is to plan ahead. If financially viable, develop an apprentice for the operator you have today; inevitably there will come a day when you will need a replacement. It is better to be ready than to find yourself in an immediate or impending need as those that call asking, “Do you know where I can find a good molder operator?” 

Jim Stevens is the owner of Alliance Knife Grinding & Moulder Services Inc. in Statesville, N.C.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.

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