At a factory 10 minutes from the famed Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, brightly colored golf carts are being assembled, inspected and prepped for shipment.
These E-Z-GO carts come in vivid reds, blues, greens, the classic whites and a subtle gold color, all part of the expanding product line of Textron Specialized Vehicles. It is an expansion made possible in part, by the firm’s decision cut its maintenance staff, and hire Advanced Technology Services to handle that work instead.
“Over the last five years we’ve launched 40 new vehicles to market and expanded our engineering workforce by 138 percent,” said Kerri Thompson, Textron Specialized’s petite plant manager. “So by allowing ATS to focus on the maintenance of our equipment, we can focus on growing our brands and our business.”
It was back in July of 2003, the unit of Textron decided it was not very good at doing the internal maintenance required in its plant in Augusta, Georgia. So it hired ATS to maintain and repair the machines that build the E-Z-GO golf carts, the Cushman industrial carts and the Bad Boy Buggies all terrain vehicles produced at the 750,000 square-foot facility.
“Over the last five years, the demand for our product has actually been accelerating,” said Brian Rabe, ATS’s vice president of heavy equipment industry and international operations.”Plant managers today have to figure out how to do more with less, and we are part of the equation of how they do that.”
Spun off from Caterpillar in 1985, ATS is looking to add 500 jobs this year to its 3,000 person workforce. But finding the workers with the skills it needs—basic mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and computer skills—can prove challenging. So ATS has developed an internal recruiting team that relies on social media, job postings and current employees to get the word out about the available jobs, while keeping an eye out for plants that are being shut down.
“Anytime we are looking at the market and there’s a situation where talent become available,” Rabe said. “We are quick to respond to it.”
Finding those workers may prove more difficult given the steadily improving, yet uneven, jobs market. The Labor Department reported Friday the economy added worse-than-expected 209,000 non-farm jobs, while the unemployment rate inched up slightly to 6.2 percent.
An ATS technician will earn between $21 to $51 an hour with full benefits. With skilled workers in high demand, ATS said it has had to pay a premium for workers in areas where there is a lot of manufacturing, or in remote areas where its hard to find or attract workers. Over the last five years pay has increased in these regions by 10 percent to 20 percent. Nationally though, ATS said wages have been flat because of labor slack in other parts of the country.
Forty-eight-year-old Jonathan Register was hired by ATS after the firm took over the internal maintenance at his former employer, Georgia Iron Works. Now at Textron Specialized Vehicles, the Georgia native noted a big difference in working for a firm where maintenance is one of many things it does, to one where it is the only thing it does.
“It means I’m going to get more support, more training,” Register said. “I’ve got backing, I’ve got resources.”
Peoria, IL-based ATS will assess a potential employees skills, and provide additional training to fill in any gaps, before sending them to a customer’s factory.
“We work very closely with our clients,” said Micah Statler, head of training programs for ATS.”We understand outgoing equipment, incoming equipment. We understand their processes and we tailor our training to make sure we’re meeting the needs that they have.”
The training needs are met by ATS’s 300 mobile training simulators that it ships to clients’ factories so training can take place in-house.
Today, ATS supports over 100 factories in the U.S., the U.K., Mexico and Canada, for clients that include Dean Foods, Georgia Pacific and Eaton Corporation. Its technicians, in teams of six to 60, typically start at a clients factory under a three-year contract, with the fee depending on the type of jobs ATS will take over.
“We make sure we are integrated with the customer’s operations” said Rabe. “If you are in a factory today and you have 5 percent machine downtime, that downtime is costing you a lot of money. If we can take it and reduce it to 1 percent downtime, you now have all that machinery available to be able to make product and make profits.”
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