Hoffer Plastics is manufacturing a change in perception
Manufacturing presents a great career opportunity for post-high school men and women, but how to learn more and overcome its myths and misperceptions?
Hoffer Plastics saw the need and decided to break the mold. Literally.
The South Elgin-based custom injection molder launched its Break the Mold initiative last year with the plan to prove to youngsters entering the workforce that this ain't your granddaddy's factory.
Break the Mold is an informational partnership driven by Hoffer Plastics with School District U-46 and its five high schools: Elgin, Larkin, Streamwood, South Elgin and Bartlett. The impetus was a pre-COVID-19 diminishment in job applications, which increased after the pandemic was established.
Hoffer hosted more than 30 school counselors from those schools in two sessions in January to give them a sense of what they wanted students to understand about manufacturing, like job growth, diversity of jobs, flexible scheduling and compensation.
That led to three groups of Larkin students -- about 20 students apiece -- who visited between the end of February and the most recent visit, March 9. Another group of Elgin students will visit April 8.
"Break the Mold was borne out of what people don't know what they don't know," said Charlotte Hoffer-Canning, the company's chief culture officer. "It's highly technical and you don't leave covered in dirt and it's an area of growth."
Hoffer can rattle off the statistics about the vibrancy of her company's field of work from the National Association of Manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing represents 12.5 million domestic jobs and is expected to add 4 million more jobs in the next decade.
"There's been a huge misconception on pay," she added, noting that between total pay and full benefits, nationwide employees make upward of $92,000. And it's not just that; Hoffer-Canning said her company offers tuition reimbursement and the costs associated with apprenticeship programs, for example.
Michele Chapman, U-46 director of postsecondary success, said Break the Mold opened a new front for the district's counselors to explain the pros of manufacturing.
"I work with our counselors, and we have noticed they have expertise with four-year colleges, but we want to expand their knowledge of local trades and manufacturing opportunities," said Chapman, a former principal of Streamwood High School.
Nancy Coleman, executive director of Alignment Collaborative for Education, which helped broker the counselor and student visits, was struck by the depth of the questions the counselors in particular posed.
"They were eager to learn," Coleman said. "They don't know a lot about the (manufacturing) job market and the skills involved. They were all very surprised with the pay and benefits. It was just exposure. Manufacturing is very interesting. There are so many types of manufacturing."
Another interesting facet of Break the Mold is its use of social media to not only attract 18- to 24-year-old talent, but also to educate their parents to change their misconceptions about manufacturing. The idea is to reach both parties where they congregate online.
The two primary platforms Hoffer uses are Instagram, to reach the youngsters, and Facebook, to reach their parents. If you get a good sense of the free-flow conversation between Hoffer and both demographics, simply search the hashtag #breakthemold. Up next is a potential foray into TikTok.
"The beauty of social media is that you can change on the fly," Hoffer-Canning said, once again using metrics to quantify Break the Mold's success. From its June 2021 launch until the end of September, social media total impressions were just south of 1 million. Total reach was 240,000, "and our ads were 400 percent higher in click-thrus than the average employment ad," she said.
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