Adam Scholtes: 00:00 This is the Skill Up Build Up podcast powered by the Morales Group where we are leading talent to thrive. The war for talent is real. Skill Up Build Up as a place to connect with businesses and community leaders to surface forward thinking solutions for a better skilled workforce to compete in the 21st century.
Kofi Darku: 00:21 Welcome back to the Skill Up Build Up podcast. On today's episode, We have Tom Butera, plant manager of a container manufacturer and recycling company in Plainfield, Indiana. Tom, thank you for being on the show today.
Tom Butera: 00:34 My pleasure.
Kofi Darku: 00:35 Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at your company?
Tom Butera: 00:39 Well, my responsibility is the, is the plant manager of the facility, it's a twenty-four/seven operation with about a hundred and fifteen people and we were obviously working around the clock, creates some challenges as far as responsibilities it is to keep everyone safe and create a quality product, get it out on time.
Kofi Darku: 00:56 Well said. You obviously have plant goals, but getting it out on time, dealing with the process I think is your main concern and I heard your emphasis on safety too.
Tom Butera: 01:08 Right. The, um, one of the, um, when you, when you look at our structure, the plant is a fairly highly automated. There's a lot of machines that do things for themselves, like robotic welders, injection molding machines, things like that. However, it still takes people, people, um, from a variable cost standpoint is about 80 percent of our variable cost. Okay. And the biggest challenges, getting the right people in the positions to safely meet the needs of the job. Okay. The jobs could be something as simple as low skilled positions as taken a cordless screwdriver and screwing in seven screws into a cage that fits onto a metal palette to a technician, maintenance or process technician that's trying to troubleshoot a robotic arm that's supposed to move parts from point a to point b and obviously, you know, the leadership that's tries to guide that as well.
Adam Scholtes: 02:04 Tom, you know, I have a little bit of background of where your company's at in terms of location here in Indianapolis. And I know there's, there's a talent shortage everywhere. I mean you're talking just the country, right? But I know specifically in your location, companies are really competing. How are you solving the talent shortage right now in this competitive space?
Tom Butera: 02:25 I think the biggest thing we're doing is we've, we've historically have utilized the, the refugee immigrant population, mainly the Burmese right now at about 60 plus percent of our hourly workforce is in the Burmese community. So what we're trying to do is expand on that.
Adam Scholtes: 02:48 What, how did you guys get into the Burmese workforce specifically?
Tom Butera: 02:51 Well, when the, when the plant first opened back in 2008, unemployment was much higher, but the Burmese population was just coming into the, through the Catholic Charities. The operations manager at the time had a close connection to that. They were struggling with the reliability of the workforce even though unemployment was high. Um, so they, you know, they learned, they learned a whole lot about what the Burmese had to offer, they learned about their culture. Um, and they, they basically ran a test, you know, they brought in a, you, I think there was 15 or 20 openings and they started with six and then it just grew from there over the years.
Kofi Darku: 03:31 What happened when you first brought that population in, I mean, I'm sure being in plainfield there weren't that many Burmese just there locally, so possibly the plant had a very different demographic internally. What happened as you had a small number and how did you decide to increase that number of Burmese in your staff?
Tom Butera: 03:55 Well, that was before my time, but what they, what they did is they basically saw the dependability, the work ethics, you know, understanding where these people were. I mean they lived in a house that was made out of pallets and carp and tarps and now they had a job with insurance and so basically they, they realized that that was something they wanted to grow. There was obviously a language barrier. So at the time they tapped into a language services. I mean there's 50, 60 different languages that you can get interpreted through 800 numbers and stuff like that, or even people coming onsite. So as they, as they started to learn more and see the reliability and the dependability of the workers back at that time, they didn't have a whole lot of robotics there. Okay, so they had higher skilled positions were not as much a need, but what they knew they were going to need them as part of just the growth of the operation because it was only a one shift operation. Now we're 24/seven, so, um, so they basically just started bringing more in. They started utilizing the interpreters more often, um, and things like that. And most, almost all of it was through referrals from the existing coworkers to the management and there was a little small interview process and then we would bring them in through a temp to hire process and it just grew from there.
Kofi Darku: 05:17 I'm just so fascinated with how a new population came in and it went from probably one percent of your overall staff to roughly 60 percent. And that's just not a typical story, but very inspirational I'm so happy it happened.
Tom Butera: 05:33 Well the people that stayed of the Non Burmese, um, I, I categorize people in two ways. You have learners and non learners and learners will make mistakes, but they'll learn from them and they'll do everything. They'll use every energy they have to make sure that mistakes not made again. Right. Then you have the non learners, okay, and the non learners they won't, they don't learn. Okay. So when you look at the people that are, have been there since the beginning of the facility and five of them were relocated from our facility in Ohio. Okay. They got it. They, they learned the Burmese culture, how they think and what they realize is we're all the same. Okay. The issues were language. Okay. So as you work through the language barrier, um, you know, the, the, um, English speaking coworkers learned how to communicate with the Burmese speaking and then the interpretation enhanced that. And then at the same token, the Bermese learn more about the American way if you will. Um, and it just meshed. The people who weren't willing to learn didn't survive by their choice, by their choice, you know, they just didn't survive. So to me that's, that was the marriage, if you will, that happen. And it's still growing. So I look at, back at one of the people that came down from our Ohio facility, been with the company for much more longer than the facility's been open. He's got a, he's got a relationship with the premise. If it was a non Burmese person, it just, you know, they just learn more about each other and to me and they help each other. That was the beauty of that and it still is.
Adam Scholtes: 07:16 Tom quick question staying on the immigrant topic you know, what, what's been a shining star and hiring the immigrant population and kind of what's, what's been the biggest challenges was the biggest win within that population.
Tom Butera: 07:31 All right. The biggest challenge is the number one challenge, you know as I came on board, you had this population. We knew we wanted to grow it, but we still had a language barrier. Although there was some coworkers that have been in the United States for maybe seven or eight years. Then they knew enough English that they could communicate, but it wasn't. It wasn't clear enough. And at the end of the day, all of us have needs, whether it's a question about 401k or medical insurance or pay or vacation time or whatever. So, um, so to me the language barrier was one that it just wasn't enough. You know, as the population grew, you can no longer rely on that one or two people because he's on a different shift than, you know, the plant grew, you're working more shifts and there just wasn't enough. So we expanded that into basically bringing a interpreter in every Monday through Friday. Every day we work 12 hour shifts, so that last two hours a day shift and the first two hours a night shift, there's a interpreter there. He's been the same person for, well since about April now. And so the challenge was the language, to me, the shining star in a way. One of them was the interpreter. I mean, he can run, he can run the production line. Um, he's given, you know, he can give plant tours, he can do our safety orientation because he's, he's been there so long and he's interpreted for us and he knows, he knows the different dialects because with the Burmese, there's seven different Chin dialects. There's two major ones that are in the plant, but he, he knows that this person speaks Burmese, but he also speaks Chin Hakha okay. So he'll, when like we actually, we started, we actually had him start all of our safety notifications or things like wash your hands before come back to work.
Tom Butera: 09:24 They're not just in English no more. I mean you can buy them in Spanish, you can't buy them in Chin Hakha. Well he, he, he, uh, updates those in Burmese and Chin Hakha because he knows that people are going to be reading them. Those are the two languages they understand. So to me the challenge was that and then really tapping into the Morales Group helped me with this because that's when I realized, well gee, we need to just, we need to take this to another level. And we actually had a point where we're going so fast, we had to call a time out, you know, it was like two minutes left in the fourth quarter. We're down by a field goal and we needed, we wanted to win the game, so we had to call a time out and regroup and then regroup was led to us, basically realized that we needed somebody that I'd rather have somebody on my payroll right now. It's, it's through the language agency and it's working real well and it's very cost effective, um, because the, what were the value we're getting from it is better trained and knowledgeable employees and happier employees.
Kofi Darku: 10:21 You're figuring out how to meet the goals of your plant, but you're also engaging a population that's not so often, uh, utilized. I think more and more companies are realizing the attributes of the Burmese population and therefore trying to hire them. But specifically in your role, I want to know about how you're leading talent to thrive in your plant. How do you all do that at your company? How do you lead talent to thrive?
Tom Butera: 10:46 Well, to me, the, you know, this is, this is what made me thrive throughout my career as I grew from corporate engineering and plant management into multiple plant managers and different industries and stuff was challenge me, teach me and challenge me. So to me the next level, and actually this started a couple of weeks ago with our interpreter is the operators in our injection molding area, which is where we make recycled pallets out of our return bottles that we grind up so they don't go into a landfill. They were only capable of running the machine, so to speak, you know, taking the parts off and palletize and very lower skilled and stuff. Well there's simple things so the robot arm gets stuck or there's a way to re zero it and things like that. They're very, they're, they're simple to me. Um, they're simple to our process technician or our maintenance people, so the procedure was called maintenance. Okay. Maintenance could be doing something else or have issues. So, um, we had our interpreter spend a week with our process technician teach him and then they went on night shift. Night shift is where it's, you know, it's, I mean, day shift is less challenging to find people when you're talking about a seven day operation, working nights, 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, you know, there's, you know, there's this, you know, everyone doesn't want to work that shift. So, but there are some. So what we needed to do is, is, is, is, is basically build their skills. Okay. We needed to enhance their skills doing that with the English speaking people was, I mean or process technician speaks English. So we basically had our interpreter learn it and then he worked on the night shift all last week, you know, and all the shifts rotate throughout the week.
Tom Butera: 12:35 So not every day, but they're on for two days on three days off, things like that. So he basically, and they, you know, they didn't, it wasn't a manual that you handed him. Um, it basically it was hands on, show me how to solve this problem. You know, the, and our computers track why the system went down, you know, robot arm did X. Well, if when it says it does x, you do these three steps, that's all you got to do. So basically we let data drive how we, how we have the problem solving. We wrote work instructions and then we in turn we spoke their language to them, and other than one person it was very receptive.
Kofi Darku: 13:15 This is, this is really insightful. So I got a couple of questions here. Go ahead.
Tom Butera: 13:20 I just want to add to that is, as part of this whole evolution, I'll call it, we also ended with four Nigerian workers okay. So we were doing the same thing from a Nigerian standpoint where we have the language they speak, we're doing the same thing. So the next week is when they'll get trained because they're newer. So, um, lets me, we're starting to expand. Yeah, that's great. Well, it's great, but you gotta you know, how many different languages can you manage? That's true. Um, but to me it works, it works. And I think the key is, is you got to have a defined plan and follow it. And not going fast it's not the answer, it's being thorough and concise and making sure they really learn what you're trying to teach them because you know, my first few weeks there as I sat and safety training meetings and stuff, I see heads nodding. Yes, yes. I'm like, oh wow. They're getting it. And then you'd go out in the plant with an interpreter and you'd ask them say, Hey, you'd ask them a question about the training. I had no clue. Wow, this ain't good. They're just sitting there at that, you know, we don't. We need them to know what they need to do to be safe, so...
Adam Scholtes: 14:27 Correct me if I'm wrong, Kofi, maybe you'd agree. I think you guys are an anomaly. I think there's a lot of companies out there looking for help and they don't know how to, how to do what you guys are doing in terms of, in terms of the diverse workforce you're bringing in and then how to manage it correctly and still be successful. Would you agree?
Kofi Darku: 14:45 From what I see? Yes they are, but I do feel like within his multi-national company, some of his supervision is realizing well that plan is figuring this out and it's going to trickle to others and that dude has and I believe other companies well before my time, but it's being enhanced to me the days of posting prayer over. There you go. So, so this is great because you've talked about how you're leading talent to thrive, but there is also a really hot topic in terms of automation and you in the very beginning of this episode you spoke to, this is a highly automated plant. I'm curious and I'll have a followup question after you respond, but I'm curious as to whether or not automation is threatening the jobs of the people within your plans.
Tom Butera: 15:33 I don't know. I think they used to think it was okay. My, I mean to me one of my visions is to um, you know, we have 62 percent Burmese coworkers. None of them are in maintenance or supervision. The way we develop our future supervisors is a thing through is called a line lead. So when the supervisor is on vacation, they run the shift. I'm proud to say, as of today, one of our night shifts and one of our day shift has a Burmese line lead in training. Okay, that's awesome. Our supervisor for day shift, today's on vacation in our line leaders running the, running the shift. Now we're there. But if it was, you know, if we weren't, I mean he's running a shift. We're not out there babysitting. Um, so, so to me, what, what I think of some of the stuff I talked about earlier help the leadership team understand is, you know, there's a way, okay. And you got to understand what they need to learn and then talk their language so to speak, and then go from there. So now when you think about maintenance, um, you know, that gets a little bit, there's a little bit more risk to manage their from a safety standpoint and especially with electricity and you know, when you're talking to injection molding and stuff like that, there's very high nomadic pressures. I draw like pressure. So, so it's, you know, you've heard a lockout tag out, you're not just, it's not about electricity is about energy. Okay. And if, if they don't really understand that. So my vision is we have, you know, we have, we're starting to develop as a company, um, you know, there's a person from every plant in October going into our plant and Carl, Georgia to, to train on hydraulic systems from a third party hydraulic company.
Tom Butera: 17:16 And then there's robotic training. What, to me, what we need to figure out, and I think we're real close is, is how can we make that happen for a non English speaking person in this, for this purposes that would be a Burmese to me, it's just, it's a translator. Yes. And in what I've learned from our translator who's become part of our Schutz family, um, is um, there, there, there's technical, there's people that have technical skills that can translate in fact some of the translators we're using before my time early on were high school, high school from these high school students that knew English, so they would come in part time into the plant and help train people. We need to expand that. And so from an automation standpoint, I think that it's, um, there's two levels. There's wherever we are, we have different electrical maintenance or we have maintenance level one, level two, level three.
Tom Butera: 18:10 I, I firmly believe that we could get to a point and next year or two where we could have a Burmese coworker to get to a level one or two maintenance or process tech position. It'll just require, um, figuring out how to best work through the language barrier because they want to. Now, one thing that there, that you've seen as playing a leadership role is different in their culture and you got to respect that. They don't, matter of fact, there's been a couple, a Burmese one in particular that spoke very good English and we thought he was a shoe in for a line lead future supervisor. He flat out said, in my culture, I don't, I cannot tell the elders what to do. Wow. So he's in his mid twenties. Some of the other coworkers were older, thirties, forties. I don't really know, but so to me the the issue he had was I cannot tell an elder what to do, so that was his barrier that he chose that listen, just let me be an operator, and so that's what he did.
Kofi Darku: 19:15 Wow. So many nuggets you're sharing on this episode on how you can successfully engage our immigrant population in Indianapolis and throughout the country. One more question please. Thank you so much for entertaining this. Now we've spoken to the role automation plays and it seems that it's not threatening the jobs for those current employees you have, but through your vast experience in manufacturing, where do you feel this sector is going in terms of how they utilize talent, especially humans in the manufacturing operation and plants, the automation sector? Well, in the manufacturing world we still have automation, but what trends is automation going to play more of a role? How are people still going to interact in the manufacturing sector? What trends do you see over the next three to five years?
Tom Butera: 20:06 Alright, my feeling is, and I've, I've seen it within our company or even the bigger companies like Siemens or Rockwell International and stuff, they're moving towards what today's generation and next generation are going to be comfortable with. You know, I used to make commercial printing for living in newspapers and magazines. Electronic media took that over 10 years ago. Big Time. But to me what's happening is tablets and everything from your phone. So to me, what's the, what's going to happen over the next three to five years and is probably already happening. It is in my world. Like as we upgrade our machinery, um, you know, you're no longer going to a computer with a keyboard. You've got a okay in, it's more Windows based. Okay. So there's pictures instead of words. So, so to me that's actually in my opinion, an opportunity to, to look at the other cultures, the Burmese in our case, and they can learn that stuff.
Tom Butera: 21:06 I mean, they have all have cell phones. So to me, the, I think the, the, um, the evolution is going to be more into that. It's still going to be controlled and electronic devices that need troubleshooting in a very similar way based on what I've seen in the Indianapolis area and I've done a lot of work in Chicago and Philadelphia as well. I don't feel that the, the, um, the people that need to support us so we get to a point where we can only do so much. So we got a call, a third party electrical company or a third party automation company, you know, the Square d's, the, the Rockwells, the Siemens, those people, they're not, I don't see where there, um, now whereas when they come in, they're technicians not going to be able to talk my technicians' language. So we're going to have a language barrier there. So it should, they should they be looking at some of the other cultures and refugees or, not necessarily Burmese, but based on where I've seen the Burmese community expand in the Indianapolis area, if I owned an electrical contracting company, I'd be hiring a couple of them and figuring out how to train them and and know that when I have a call from this company, I got to set my Burmese people no different than a we had with Morales where, you know, when we first started our, our expanding our recruiting, you guys had a Burmese interpreter that was helping us recruit. He spoke their language.
Adam Scholtes: 22:27 Thanks for that insight. Tom. I think I was even speaking today and I think I think your company and yourself as well, I think you just get it from a diverse standpoint. Thinking outside of the box to solve these talent shortages. There's not a lot of companies out there that just aren't willing to get out that far outside of the box
Kofi Darku: 22:50 It may be because he's a plant manager and has managed several plants that you're, you aren't boarded by problems. You seem to be problem solving oriented and as a result you are addressing challenges that many companies don't figure out how to solve that quickly and you're building on the success of the solutions you make. So it's really refreshing.
Adam Scholtes: 23:13 Yeah, that's good. So we want jump into some personal questions now. Maybe have a little bit of fun. So we did a little research on you and we know you're from the west side of Chicago. So Cubs or Sox?
Tom Butera: 23:26 Cubs fan. But I'm not an anti Xox fan.
Kofi Darku: 23:30 I love that qualifier.
Tom Butera: 23:31 I mean to me, I don't, I'm not against the White Sox but if they're playing each other. There's only one football team of course everyone's a Bear's fan
Adam Scholtes: 23:41 Maybe that's fair. That was a dumb question.
Tom Butera: 23:46 My goal in life is I see the Bears play in every NFL city, so I was in Arizona far, far away. I mean that's Kinda one of those pioneers guy bucket list things.
Kofi Darku: 23:58 So what's your morning routine as you get ready for work? Well, I've been starting to exercise which is helping. Um, and um, I, I'm a very agenda driven person and I like to have a plan so usually the night before, but sometimes when I'm drinking coffee in the morning, you know, this is what I'm going to do today late. I usually put many things down and have them get done, but it's a list because there's a, there's an unexpected thing. So, um, and then really the, the, um, one of the things I've learned over my years of plant management is you can't get hooked to that computer because I could work 24/seven and still not keep up with emails.
Tom Butera: 24:39 Right. And so to me it's almost so to me, the first thing you do is you kind of get yourself stuttered and put your personal protection equipment on and just go talk to people. You'll figure out what's going on in a plant better with that. Now we do. I have access through my laptop from home. I could, we have cameras that I could see if a machine's running and all that I could figure out. But to me, just talking to the operator, it's, I'm not going to sit there watching cameras for 24 hours, right? So they'll, they'll give you a, and to me they get to learn a little bit about them. So one of the things we do with the plant is if someone has a newborn baby, we give them $100 baby bonus. So you know, so like this morning was kinda fulfilling. I got to walk out and get a copy of the birth certificates so you know, the baby's name and everything and why it was Burmese coworker. Matter of fact he is the person being trained for a line lead. And it was exciting what a title that the names are you know they're unique to me and um, you know, I just, what does that mean? He said, well that's in Burmese Chin Hakha. It means the cornerstone, the strength. So they named their daughter, the name is, you know, that's what it means in the translation. I have never picked that up. But, so to me that the routine is just, you do that, you start your day and then you can catch up with emails and you know, we have a daily review for 10 or 15 minutes every morning. That's very to the point. Um, and usually by then you know, what's going on. Anyways, we talk about what's going to happen tomorrow and um, you know, then you've got, you've got your normal business stuff and you know, justifying capital expenditures and hiring people and working with translators and things like that so...
Adam Scholtes: 26:18 Tom, if you can pick up a new skill, like right now, this instant, what would it be?
Tom Butera: 26:24 Work Related. It doesn't have to be anything. I want to learn Chin Hakha because I want to be able to play to their tune, talk their language, So I've learned how to say thank you and you're welcome and stuff. And um, you know, instead of just the wave in the morning, so I'd like to learn enough to do that in turn. So that to me, if I had to pick a skill set, even the non work related, that would to me just be a matter of fact, as I know my first couple of weeks, my brother in law and I were talking, he said, well that's how are you going to talk to them as I'm going to learn their language? And he just looked at me. Really? I'm like, yeah.
Kofi Darku: 27:00 You realized that that is the complete opposite orientation. People often have. They normally want the other to learn their language. You are, you are you're willing to learn the other's language, which I mean is very apparent in the problem solving that you have at your plant.
Tom Butera: 27:15 You were part of this Kofi, we, we, we worked with our interpreting group and we are going to invest in 10 people at once a quarter we'd have 10 people every quarter we would teach them English on our sites, in our facilities, punch the time clock and get paid whether they're. And so when we brought our interpreter in, you know, we thought that gee, they're just going to want to learn English. So he canvassed them, it was surprising and how many of them didn't. Okay. In other words. No. And it's like, you know, well this is my, my feelings just based on, you know, if you think about some of the stuff we've talked about as we learn more about them, they'll want to learn more about us and it'll just, it'll just happen. So that's my feelings.
Kofi Darku: 27:59 Well Tom, thank you so much for being on this episode. You've helped us and, and all of our listeners, realize there are many ways that we can start to do a better job of engaging and working with our immigrant population. Thank you so much.
Tom Butera: 28:12 You're welcome. My pleasure.
Adam Scholtes: 28:13 Great episode with Tom Butera. Really enjoyed the conversation. Is that his thoughts on automation, automation is a very hot topic right now in his thoughts on how that's not really threatening his plan. I thought I thought were real. It was really interesting, uh, especially in this world where I think a lot of people think the automation is going to kind of take over the, uh, the labor force. Um, you know, we didn't mean for this to be a Burmese commercial, but you know, I thought it was staggering at 62 percent of his workforce is from the Burmese population. Um, I think that just speaks to his company and it's a company that gets it right and wants to think out of the box and just be different. I'm also liked his comment on if we want to learn more about them, they will want to learn more about us and I think this is the heart that we need to every company moving forward. And honestly, it really speaks to our previous episode with Cole Varga from Exodus Refugee. If you haven't heard that episode, highly suggest that you find that on the, uh, on the website,
Kofi Darku: 29:11 Continue to stay engaged with this conversation at the skillupbuildup.com website.