FLORIDA — Beech-Nut is looking for some new employees -- and a little help finding them.
The town of Florida baby food manufacturer expanded its workforce by 70 people over the past six months, mostly due to increased production, both of its own products and co-manufactured products. It plans additional expansion in 2018: It currently has 17 job openings and is planning a job fair for March 1 to help fill them.
The problem it runs into, said Erin Clemens, vice president of human resources, is threefold: The Mohawk Valley’s population is not growing, no public transportation lines run to the the factory off Route 5S, and many of the production jobs now require a significant level of technical knowledge.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam; SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson; and FMCC President Dustin Swanger met Wednesday with Beech-Nut CEO Mark Rodriguez to discuss workforce development, among other issues. Fulton-Montgomery Community College is an important partner with Beech-Nut in giving students the technical grounding they need for some of the jobs Beech-Nut wants to fill, particularly for mechanical and electrical technician posts, Clemens said.
Expanding that partnership was a topic at the meeting, Clemens said Thursday. (Getting bus service to Route 5S southwest of Amsterdam — an area that is home to a significant cluster of large employers besides Beech-Nut, including Target, Hill & Markes and, soon, Dollar General — also was discussed, but more as a wish-list item.)
Clemens said Beech-Nut employs 330 now, about 220 of them in production roles and 110 in administrative and other positions. Along with the new jobs it wants to fill, Beech-Nut also must hire to backfill, since its normal attrition rate is about 10 percent a year.
A major difference for the company in the past decade is technology. Its old plant in Canajoharie was manual labor-intensive. The new one in Florida is heavily automated. Only about 25 percent of the production jobs, particularly in the warehouse, involve significant amounts of strenuous labor. Most of the rest rely more on knowledge and skills than muscle, as the workers guide the production process through touchpad HMIs, or human-machine interfaces.
“The process is highly technical,” Clemens said. “Quality is of the utmost importance.”
The creation of Beech-Nut’s new Naturals line four years ago only enhanced the need for technical know-how, as those goods require an all-new production process.
Of the three issues facing Beech-Nut’s hiring process — training, population and transportation — training is the only one the company can realistically expect to address.
Clemens said the firm requires new employees to have high school diplomas -- or the equivalent -- and prefers that they have some experience in a manufacturing facility or distribution center. Beech-Nut provides training and development opportunities to those it hires.
But it also encourages prospective employees, particularly young adults, to get academic training, including courses offered at FMCC, before applying for jobs.
Beech-Nut has helped shape parts of the curriculum at the college. With classroom work and training hours, graduates finish college aware of the opportunities at Beech-Nut and graduate with the skills to do the job.
Johnson, who took over as SUNY chancellor in September, has a deep background in technology as a former tech industry executive and an electrical engineer; she holds 118 patents.
She said Wednesday she likes to encourage public-private partnerships like the FMCC-Beech-Nut relationship. They help round out a maxim she quoted: “Train for the expected; educate for the unexpected.”
The Beech-Nut job fair will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 1 in the main lobby of the factory, off Route 5S. Details about vacancies are on the company’s website; additional details about the job fair will be posted shortly.
The company does not publish its wages as it advertises job openings, and Clemens also would not specify a salary range. She did say the wage and benefits package is designed to be competitive.