Dean Lail started Sapona Plastics in 2004 after a long career working in his father’s plastics company and the textile industry. The company manufactures cable connection boxes, brushes, cleaning products, tubes, and buckets, and employs 130 people, three of which are youth apprentices with Apprenticeship Randolph.
As manufacturing in the United States continues to face a skilled worker shortage, Sapona Plastics is exploring new ways to fill that gap. Like many companies, their biggest challenge is finding skilled employees.
Read more about local companies partnering with Apprenticeship Randolph.
Solving Talent Pipeline Issues through Apprenticeship
Apprenticeship Randolph provides Sapona Plastics with bright, motivated youth apprentices. The apprentices start the summer after their junior or senior year of high school, working and going to school, and move on to Randolph Community College on an associate degree track relevant to their apprenticeship. They earn an income, and their tuition, fees, and books are covered, allowing them to graduate debt-free with an associate degree and a career path.
The apprenticeship selection process is designed to identify high performers with certain skills and a proven track record in the classroom. Apprenticeship Randolph has apprentices perform a series of tests gauging everything from a student’s aptitude to their mechanical ability and personality type.
Dean says, “Apprenticeship really takes the pressure off of us. We know every year we’re going to have motivated employees coming in.”
The coronavirus pandemic brought with it new restrictions for companies looking to interview candidates in-person, but Apprenticeship Randolph hasn’t missed a beat. “They interviewed the apprentices and shared the information with us,” says Dean. “We were able to go through and look at which ones would be the best fit for us. We really got a great picture.”
Investing in the Next Generation
Sapona Plastics sees apprenticeship as a long-term investment. “We’ve put in a lot of time and effort into hiring them and training them,” says Dean. “When you spend time hiring, finding the right match, and then training them properly, they’ll stay a lot longer.”
After spending time in every area of the company, the apprentices choose the department or area in which they want to specialize––currently one is in maintenance/mechatronics, one is in tool-making, and one is in processing.
At Sapona Plastics, many of the skilled workers with the most experience are nearing retirement age; there is a fear they’ll take their knowledge and expertise with them when they leave. Apprenticeship is giving the company a chance at passing that know-how down.
“We’ve just really been impressed with the youth apprentices we’ve gotten,” says Dean. “They’re exceptional, not only for their knowledge and skill and ability to learn, but also they’re just good people. The apprentices will be the next generation of managers in our company.”
Sapona Plastics makes it a point to share their involvement in Apprenticeship Randolph with their community. When customers visit, they make a point to introduce their apprentices.
Dean says, “Apprenticeship has helped us increase sales, make a better impression with our customers, and give our customers more confidence in us as a company, that we’ll be able to solve their needs.”
Dean advises other companies in the area to consider partnership with Apprenticeship Randolph. “It’s a great way to work new people into your business and train them from the ground up.”
He continues, “Apprenticeship has given us a good strategy for succession planning. We know we’re not going to have to go and hire from the outside to fill positions as people retire because we’re developing them from within.”