Few manufacturers can say that COVID-19 heralded the start of something great for their businesses, but Alex Grover may be the exception.
At Grover, the Mountain Top, Pennsylvania-based plastic film maker i2M, the pandemic has resulted in two major new offerings for employees: Innovation 2 Education (i2E) and Innovation 2 Transportation (i2T).
A pandemic “pod”: To allow employees to continue coming to work when schools closed in early 2020, Grover, who is president of i2M, hired a local teacher and offered an on-site learning module for employees’ children.
- The module lasted several months during the height of the first wave of the virus, allowing i2M team members who were also parents to work and earn money, without having to worry about childcare or education.
A wider offer: Yet as schools began to reopen in 2021, Grover and her team realized the need for childcare was not diminishing. In fact, for parents of younger children who were not of school age, it had even become more pronounced than before.
- “People couldn’t get back into the workforce not because they didn’t want to, but because there were new barriers,” Grover said. In families “in which both parents work, the lack of accessible childcare makes it difficult for one parent to work in manufacturing. In single-parent families, this was essentially impossible.
- The fact that good healthcare offers are often only available during the day compounds the problem for workers in the manufacturing industry. “Today’s child care is typically designed for 9-to-5 desk jobs,” Grover said. “In smaller communities like Mountain Top, it’s usually not aligned with work that involves 12-hour shifts.”
Change the face of care: Grover and his team decided to change that. Work with local childcare provider building blocksanother woman-owned business in the area, i2M began offering subsidized and extended childcare for employees’ children in January this year.
- “The goal of developing this program with Building Blocks was, ‘How can we better align hours with a manufacturing schedule?’ said Grover. “It’s up to companies to support their team with win-win childcare solutions.”
In addition, Building Blocks is currently considering providing overnight care for the children of third shift workers.
Shoot to succeed: Another challenge that i2M has set itself the goal of solving is often cited by i2M employees: transportation. At the end of 2021, the company rolled out its i2T plan, a partnership with the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Developmentto provide interest-free loans to i2M team members for the repair or replacement of cars.
- “It’s very disruptive to the team member and the plant operations when a machine operator can’t come because their car breaks down or they need emergency repairs,” Grover said. “So we developed the program to provide quick solutions when this happens.”
To date, the program has provided more than $23,000 in 0% interest loans to its team members, the principal of which is automatically deducted from their salary each pay period.
- Since the program began, “there have been no cancellations due to transportation issues,” Grover said.
Next steps: There are plans to extend both i2E and i2T.
- i2M owns a 12,000 square foot space just up the street from its manufacturing facility and is currently figuring out how to turn it into a full-time daycare for both i2M employees and other local businesses.
- Grover is also working on developing a car loan program framework that i2M can “extend to other manufacturers,” she said.
The last word: As Grover said, “There are so many opportunities to break down barriers to employment in manufacturing. The more people we can recruit into the workforce, the greater our ability to deliver results for our customers, our community and the manufacturing industry.