Companies struggle to replace good, retiring managers

Published in Central Penn Business Journal, October 8, 2004
By Dennis Reardon, staff writer

Several businesses in Central Pennsylvania are wrestling with supervisory training issues. Company leaders retire. Staffs expand. As a result, companies need new supervisors and lessons on how to manage more people.

Electron Energy Corporation started in 1970 with two employees in a milk house on a dairy farm near Manheim, Lancaster County. Today, the business employs 107 people in a 40,000-square-foot building in nearby East Hempfield Township.

As the company’s workforce has grown, so, too, has its numbers of supervisors and their responsibilities, said Ira Wolfe, founder of Success Performance Solutions. His business-consulting firm is training Electron Energy’s upper-level managers and directors, supervisors and team leaders.

Many such leaders have been with Electron Energy, a manufacturer of rare-earth magnets, for 20-plus years, and they’ve never been trained for supervisory positions, Wolfe said. Electron Energy has struggled with turnover, a delvery rate that slipped and low morale, he said. Wolfe’s business is based in Upper Leacock Township, Lancaster County.

“At least half of the supervisors are introverts, and they’re now responsible for inspiring a team that has grown quickly,” Wolfe said. “If even one person doesn’t show up for work, you need skills to motivate. You just can’t say, ‘OK everyone, we have to work harder to get his job done.’ “

Success Performance Solutions has provided good training that has boosted the morale of roughly two-dozen of Electron Energy’s top staff, said Christine Wheelen, human resources manager at Electron Energy. The company’s challenge has been recruiting and retaining workers.

“We’d like to develop team leaders into supervisors and to keep upper-level managers razor sharp,” Wheelen said.

Success Performance Solutions also is providing supervisory training for C-P Flexible Packaging Inc. In Manchester Township, York County. The company makes flexible packaging for everything from snack foods to trading cards.

C-P expects in a few years to have supervisory job openings because of retirements and company growth. Success Performance Solutions is evaluating C-P’s work force so the company can promote from within.

“We have one supervisor retiring now and several others who may retire in the next 5 to 10 years and, until now, we’ve had no succession plan for the supervisory position,” said Chad Brenneman, human resources manager for C-P. “In the past, we’ve had assistant supervisors, be we don’t have any now. We want to create those positions to ease people into supervisor positions.”

C-P has run a battery of three different assessments on nine hourly employees who are looking to become supervisors, Brenneman said. Those workers were asked about their skills, behaviors, and motivators, among other areas. Those assessments will count for up to one-third of C-P’s decisions about each potential supervisor. The rest will be based on workers’ experience, interviews, performance and attendance.

A lot of companies are struggling to fill supervisory positions, said Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board. His organization aims to atract and retain workers, improve their skills and increase their earnings.

“Companies are getting to the point where senior-level people retire, and then who’s in the pipeline?” Sheely asked. “Companies don’t want to take senior-level technicians and make them supervisors because they don’t want to lose their experience. Yet, a lot of times, longtime workers are made supervisors – but they don’t have the skills for managment,.”

Much of the supervisory problem has been cause by the increasing popularity of lean manufacturing, Sheely said. Lean manufacturing eliminates waste by cutting excess inventory, improving work methods and reducing the amount of time it takes to process orders and collect payments.

A side effect of lean manufacturing is a smaller labor pool, Sheely said.

Small businesses are struggling to decide whether to partner with like-sized companies to split supervisory training costs, Sheely said.


Ira S Wolfe