Hilex Poly file

Hernan Parra, left, and Joel Holt work with a large roll of plastic film as it moves through the Hilex Poly factory in October 2010.

TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO

When filling higher-skilled positions became more challenging, Hilex Poly put more of its focus on internal talent development.

It took Human Resources Manager Liz McBride nearly all of 2016 to hire for new jobs after the manufacturer announced a Jerome expansion in 2015.

“I needed to fill just over 40 positions,” she said, “but it took me 140 hires to fill those positions, because of turnover.”

And with a tight local labor pool, there’s still more risk in hiring from outside the area, when employees have to adjust to a new place, McBride said. So the Novolex-owned company used its apprenticeship program as a solution.

“We hadn’t really relied on it as we do now,” McBride said in early June.

The program allows employees on the production line to apply to be apprentices. With training, an employee eventually moves into a maintenance role — the highest-paid position at the plant, McBride said. An experienced electromechanic can earn $22 per hour and up, while an electronic technician with some experience makes $25 per hour and up. Vacancies left in the production line are much easier for the company to fill. This job requires aptitude and understanding of how machines work, but the company will also consider someone who just has a strong work ethic and is trainable. A production line operator with some experience makes $15 per hour and up, McBride said.

The current job market has also heightened the company’s need to increase its cross-training of employees for when vacancies occur.

But training alone won’t cover all its needs, so Hilex Poly increased its marketing and raised the amount of its employee referral bonus. The bonus totals several hundred dollars, with disbursements at the initial hire, six months and one-year anniversary.

“Because it’s an employee market and because employers are desperate to fill positions, they must learn to change what they’ve done in the past to meet the needs of the present and the future,” McBride said. “Sadly, we are all kind of robbing each other.”

Plentiful jobs in the valley make workers feel comfortable looking for greener pastures, she said. Hilex Poly is in direct competition with any manufacturer, including the food industry.

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