Few people know what an industrial maintenance technician is, but at Frito-Lay's Perry Plant in Georgia, where 1.7 billion bags of product are processed annually, the plants 15 production lines require a 24-hour crew of 100 industrial maintenance technicians to keep the machines running. The difficult-to-fill position requires a specialized two-year degree, and it was a key role for which the company saw serious shortages of skilled candidates.
"This skilled labor issue is not one that's unique to Perry," Patrick McLaughlin, SVP, CHRO for Frito-Lay told HR Dive via email.
The challenge led to the creation of Frito-Lay's apprenticeship program, the Houston County Career Academy (HCCA) Industrial Maintenance Program. Students who participate in the program receive elective high school and college credits for basic engineering and maintenance skills that will prepare them for entry-level employment in manufacturing roles upon graduation. As a result, Frito-Lay has identified several successful hires, McLaughlin said.
"[We're] constantly working with our local manufacturing sites to develop similar programs, or to forge relationships with local colleges to build our future pipeline of talent," he added.
The making of the program
In collaboration with the Houston County Board of Education, the HCCA and the Central Georgia Technical College, McLaughlin said, the company has been able to take lessons learned and successes with the apprenticeship program and launch similar programs at other sites.
"[Nearly] 65% of our manufacturing sites (20 of our 31 facilities) have partnerships with local colleges to reskill current employees for new positions, help shape the curriculum for local colleges or are in talks of partnerships with local colleges," McLaughlin said.
Initial conversations for the program started in 2014, McLaughlin said, and then a two-year process began in order to develop a full curriculum and educate parents and students on the program's goals.
Sourcing and attracting talent
"Upon program completion, students are eligible to interview for Frito-Lay's apprenticeship program, which pairs 'cadets' with mentors at the Frito-Lay Perry manufacturing facility for on-the-job training while they work to complete their Industrial Systems Associate Degree from Central Georgia Technical College. Only one degree is required to complete the program," McLaughlin said.
The company works closely with the HCCA and Perry-area schools to recruit students who may be interested in the program. The Perry site also participates in the HCCA's open house events to recruit students, McLaughlin said.
The program continues to receive interest from students every school year. Last year, the program had 14 students enrolled, and the school year ended with two job offers and acceptances to Frito-Lay. This year, the company has 10 students enrolled — eight are second-year returning students to the program, McLaughlin said.
More than a talent pipeline
"The goal of the program as well as our programs across the U.S. that are either developed are in development," McLaughlin said, "is to prepare young adults for a highly skilled technical career in manufacturing, with Frito-Lay or other employers, giving them a great start with a respected company that can open doors to opportunities they might not otherwise have."
A 2018 Deloitte study estimated that the skills gap could leave 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028, with skilled manufacturing roles among the toughest to fill, McLaughlin noted. He said that, after completing the program and with six to eight years of employment at Frito-Lay, students can ultimately earn around $75,000 without a college degree.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of product made annually by the plant.