Tusco Display recently landed the front page of our local newspaper for our creative hiring practices. By partnering with local schools and offering flexible part-time opportunities, Tusco has been able to fill out our staff ranks and continue to produce on-time, on-spec, and on-budget for our clients.
GNADENHUTTEN — Margaret Affolter had never worked in manufacturing before she took a job at Tusco Display in 2021.
The Uhrichsville resident worked in retail, she babysat and she cleaned cabins. She needed a schedule that would work for her and her school-age daughter, so she applied at Tusco.
Affolter now works Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as a spot welder. Her co-workers taught her everything she needed to know to do the job and have been very patient with her.
“The hours are perfect,” she said. “I drop my little girl off at school, then as soon as I get off here, I pick her up from school.
“I’ve been very pleased and blessed with this job.”
Like many manufacturers, Tusco has had difficulty in finding workers in the last couple of years. At the same, time, the Gnadenhutten company, which makes custom store displays, has seen its business boom, posting two strong double-digit years of growth in 2020 and 2021.
To fill the need for workers, Chief Executive Mike Lauber has had to think outside the box.
“We’ve tried to be creative in thinking about how do we get the work done,” he said. “Manufacturers in particular have been typically rigid about what their expectations were.”
Traditionally, manufacturers have been hesitant to hire people who can’t work at least 40 hours a week.
“But it’s also been a buyers market for labor,” he said. “We have a lot of the best jobs, best pay, best compensation packages and total benefits and the like, and so we could be a little bit more fussy about what our requirements were. That’s no longer the case.”
In 2018, Tusco partnered with Indian Valley Local Schools to recruit workers from the high school, which is just across the street from the plant.
About a dozen Indian Valley students worked at Tusco the first year, doing light assembly work, mostly after the school day ended. Another group of eight students started working at the plant late last year.
“We love these kids. They show up and they go to work,” Lauber said.
Indian Valley Superintendent Ira Wentworth said it’s been a good partnership.
“It’s beneficial for Tusco Display, but it also benefits our students,” he said. “It fits in with our vision that we try to do with our kids. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
His students are able to earn some money and save it for such things as college.
When Tusco first partnered with Indian Valley in 2018, the school district sent out an all-call that the company was looking for adults as well that might be interested in working up to 30 hours a week.
“We got a number of people that came through, families of students, who joined us at the same time. It worked out famously for us,” Lauber said.
“Granted, we must hire four people to get the equivalent of three full-time positions but these team members have been consistently high-performers. We find them eager, able and appreciative of the opportunities we provide.”
Tusco now has 15 people working part time.
Among the part-time workers is Heide Warren of Dover, who works three days a week as a mechanical engineer.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, she went to work for Motorola right out of college. Once she started having children, she became a stay-at-home mom. Returning to the workforce wasn’t easy.
“It was really hard as an engineer to find part-time work,” Warren said. “It’s not typically a degree that offers many options for part-time. So I work on projects that are mostly long-term projects, so they don’t have to be done right right now.”
She appreciates the opportunity that Tusco has given her.
“I’m off on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” she said. “I also think that I can work more effectively the days that I’m here because I can make all of my appointments for a Tuesday or a Thursday or I can make all my calls and get those done or whatever I have to do.
“So when I’m here, my mind is here and I’m here. I think my productivity goes up too.”
Heather Hill of Port Washington, who works as a purchasing agent, has made the transition from part time to full time.
She worked part-time when she was a student at Kent State University, and Tusco worked around her schedule.
“I probably could have worked 40 hours, but I liked the idea of being able to come in here and be able to study when I needed to study,” she said. “They were very flexible with my schedule so I could go ahead and take care of that and my son.”
Brittany Braun of Gnadenhutten came to work at Tusco after Indian Valley issued the all-call in 2018.
She had never worked never worked in a factory before. She was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years and before that did odd jobs.
The mother of four boys works full-time as a quality technician, doing inspections.
Braun said she would recommend factory work to others.
“Absolutely,” she said.
Tusco Display currently has 75 full-time and part-time employees, and Lauber said he has positions available on both the day shift and midnight shift.
“I think the big message from me to other manufacturers is, why not be more flexible?” he said. “It will give you access to a segment of the population who’s eager and able and in some cases tremendously skilled but may not be able to give you 40 or more hours a week.”