Editor's Plate: How Do We Make Factory Jobs Attractive?

July 5, 2017
Frito-Lay chips in with Houston County (Georgia) Career Academy to train and mentor young people for the plant.
High-tech has all the glamour; and, for many, a fatter paycheck. But there are good jobs, and good-paying jobs, to be had in the factory, even in the factories of food and beverage companies.

Many food processors are worried about the shortage of skilled labor, and many are doing good, local things about it. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division recently teamed up with the Houston County (Georgia) Career Academy (HCCA) and Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) to expand opportunities for students in Houston County by introducing an industrial maintenance program.

This new program recognizes the need to start winning the hearts and minds of younger generations by encouraging students who are still in high school to explore manufacturing careers, while providing avenues for them to begin their studies. And, at the conclusion, mentorship at a company like Frito-Lay.

The program – a first for Houston County and potential model for other areas around the country – addresses local workforce needs by connecting students with technical training and employment opportunities within the community.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our students and community,” said Sabrina Phelps, principal at HCCA. “Our district is thrilled to work with Frito-Lay and CGTC to collaborate on this initiative to grow our own workforce by aligning our students’ training with industry needs. This workforce development effort will meet local employment needs and also be a model for the state and nation.”

Houston County is south of Macon, putting it quite a ways outside the glow of Atlanta. Throughout central Georgia, demand for industrial maintenance mechanics is alarmingly high, the principals claim. At the same time, the area faces a shortage of highly skilled workers.

Much the same is true nationally, where nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed in the next decade, and 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled due to the shortage of skilled labor, according to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute for the National Assn. of Manufacturers.

That same study found that, in 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the U.S. earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all nonfarm industries earned $63,830. Looking specifically at wages, the average manufacturing worker earned nearly $26 per hour, not including benefits. Those are attractive numbers.

Frito-Lay operates a plant near county seat Perry, Ga. (population 15,000) that makes SunChips, Tostitos, Lay's Kettle-Cooked potato chips and Cheetos. Built in 1988, it's one of Frito-Lay's largest plants, totaling approximately 1 million square feet with 15 production lines producing approximately 300 million pounds of snacks annually. The 1,350 total employees include about 100 on a dedicated maintenance team that builds, repairs and optimizes equipment to ensure production stays on track.

“At Frito-Lay, our business – and the way we do business – continues to transform. Ensuring we have highly skilled, qualified mechanics in place to manage the technical aspects of our operations is critical,” said Gregg Roden, senior vice president of supply chain at Frito-Lay. “Innovative staffing solutions like the HCCA Industrial Maintenance program in Perry, Ga., will help ensure we have a pipeline of talent to fill high-tech roles now and in the future, while giving students a career path to ensure their future success.”

Through the HCCA Industrial Maintenance program, junior- and senior-level students will receive elective high school credits, as well as college credits from CGTC for learning basic engineering and maintenance skills. These skills will prepare students for entry-level employment in manufacturing roles upon graduating from high school.

This includes an opportunity to train with industrial mechanics; learn how to repair, troubleshoot and maintain automated equipment; and get hands-on experience in hydraulics, machine alignment, electricity and mechanical fundamentals.

Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible to interview for Frito-Lay’s apprenticeship program, which pairs entry-level associates with mentors at Frito-Lay’s Perry, Ga. facility for on-the-job training while they work to complete their associate’s degrees.

Enrollment for the HCCA Industrial Maintenance program began in late 2016 and continues through this April. Coursework begins in fall 2017.

More information is available at