Molder snags new workers with flexible approach

Feb. 20, 2024
Anchor Plastics offers flexible hours, plans re-examination of other benefits, to match workers' needs.

By Karen Hanna  

Like many manufacturers, Steve Rogers has had troubles in the past hiring workers. Then, he stumbled on an idea: Offer fewer hours, and more flexibility.  

By early January, after posting an ad for about a weeks, the president, owner and CEO of Anchor Plastics Inc., a Golden Valley, Minn., custom molder, had received initial interest from about 50 people. 

Hiring has gotten easier, but Rogers said he’s also taken a different approach that seems to be working. 

“I’ll put a job up there for $50,000 — starting two years out of high school is my only requirement — and I can’t find anybody. But I can put a job out there 20 hours a week, 15 bucks an hour, and I’ll have 15 people apply,” Rogers said. “... A lot of people don’t want a full-time job.” 

At a time when hiring seems to be slowing and other manufacturers might be scuffling, Rogers and Anchor Plastics are preparing for growth. The solutions Rogers has implemented at the small shop — in late January, it had just eight workers — could provide one template for manufacturers looking for creative ways to staff up.  

Leadership at all levels 

Anchor Plastics’ team is its most valuable asset, according to Rogers, who says he doesn’t aspire to be the company’s captain, but its rudder.  

But the credit for keeping things running, he said, goes to his team. 

“If you allow people to develop and take ownership, it’s amazing to watch what they can do,” he said. 

One Monday morning, he came into work and was surprised to see his employees had furiously cleaned the shop stem to stern. Turns out, they had learned the main water pipe had burst, and they mustered into action before Rogers even found out. 

“I had over 2 inches, almost 3 inches, of water in 11,000 square feet,” Rogers said. “My team had gotten here at 5:50 ... had it fixed by, I think, 8 o'clock. ... So, by 10 o'clock, the time I walked in, everything was running.” 

Anchor Plastics employees are like that: They’re capable, driven to meet high standards and self-directed.  

Rogers calls it having “an adverse opinion to authority.”  

It’s a compliment.  

“As a manager, my biggest threat isn't, ‘I’m gonna fire you,’ it’s, ‘Did you want me to come and help you do your job?’ ” Rogers said. 

If Rogers does his job in selecting the right people, they won’t need that extra oversight, because, he said, “I want to hire smart people, good people, that want to do their job and want to do it right.” 

Casting a wide net 

Around the holidays, what Rogers calls the Anchor Plastics family began advertising an opening. 

But the big step wasn’t an application, it was a meet-and-greet.  

People interested in landing a job at Anchor Plastics first sent in a resume. Then, they proceeded to an important step — a short site visit that gives both them and Anchor Plastics employees a chance to assess their fit.

“We’ll bring in someone for an application and give them a tour,” Rogers said. “It’s not an interview. ... We like to let people come in, especially the younger generation because they’ve sort of changed all the rules.” 

If they were still interested in the job, candidates had the option to take the next step, calling the company the next day to schedule an interview.  

The process gave all parties a chance to feel each other out before anyone had invested much time, and it weeded out anyone who wasn’t really interested. 

When visitors tour, Anchor Plastics employees let Rogers know if they’ve met someone they liked. 

“With the [employees], if there’s interest or not, then they’ll come and grab me, and I’ll introduce myself and go back and answer if there’s any questions, and it’s really worked out well,” Rogers said. “It’s probably only 10 minutes or 15 minutes per person coming in, but [applicants] like the ability of seeing the facility.” 

Filling multiple roles 

With such a small workforce, Anchor Plastics is pressed to find people who can play multiple roles.
But Rogers has had success getting the most out of every man hour. The first shift runs nine hours a day four days a week, with a four-hour-day on Fridays. Second shift works four 10-hour days.

The Anchor Plastics team devised the schedule when Rogers sought to restore workloads he’d reduced during the Great Recession.

But employees told him they didn’t want to work a full day on Fridays. So, they don’t.

That mindset still guides Rogers.  

Employees who want to work a full schedule might end up wearing multiple hats. For example, an employee in the warehouse also performs quality control. 

Meanwhile, an intern working part time handles marketing. 

“It’s interesting because it isn’t about hours; it’s about, 'Do they fit in?' ” Rogers said. “And we’ve had great success.” 

To bring everyone up to speed, new employees take part in an onsite training program that covers all the roles that they’ll encounter, from setting up and running machines to handling materials.  

It takes about seven weeks, and it’s intense, Rogers said, with tests every week.  

Fail three times, and you’re out. 

Pass, and you’re part of the family. 

Rogers said he takes a lot of satisfaction in seeing workers step into new roles at Anchor Plastics. A small shop like his depends on people who are prepared to take on different responsibilities. 

“If you’re not continuously developing a worker, or somebody part of your team, somebody else will,” he said.  

Rogers said Anchor Plastics’ approach to hours and the allocation of work have actually resulted in greater productivity. 

After cutting Friday hours, he said, “It was funny because we actually increased our coverage and lowered our overtime by, like, 45 percent.” 

Continuing to evolve 

In a tight economy, Anchor Plastics’ strongest selling point — its ability to do more with less — looks especially attractive. Prospective new customers call all the time, to see if the shop can save them money, Rogers said. 

“We’ve got a lot of new opportunities coming in,” he said. “We’re already gauged up for almost 10 percent new growth of new products that are already awarded, and we’ve got some big ones now, that I could be looking at adding almost 40 percent.” 

He said he expects to do about $2.5 million in business this year. 

As he looks ahead, he’s also re-evaluating the benefits his company offers, knowing that the next generation of workers is less interested in the typical offerings.  

“I joke with a lot of the young guys that I have ... that you can be on your parents’ insurance till you’re 26. So, is that an important benefit? Well, after you’re 26 it is, but to them kids? ... So, we’re actually in the process right now of changing and evaluating all our benefits. ... What’s important to a kid?” 

With three positions currently open, the Anchor Plastics family is expanding, and Rogers said he wants to do right by them. 

“We’re very profitable, we’ve got the opportunity to do some fun things. And, again, the guys here are really the reason why we’re successful,” he said. 

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.