June 18, 2018 | Ryan Underdahl | Article Link
Since Lifeworks began its partnership with Midwest Rubber Service & Supply Company in May 2017, productivity and employee morale have been on an upswing.
A family-owned business based in Plymouth, Midwest Rubber has facilities spanning North America, Asia, and Europe where it manufactures, fabricates, and distributes high-quality rubber products.
Enter the Midwest Rubber Plymouth facility, where four Lifeworks associates are employed, and you’ll see their positive influence manifest itself in ways both obvious and intangible.
“The biggest win that we get from Lifeworks – outside of the productivity – is that no matter where you’re at in your day or your life, if you walk by there, they’re happy to be at work, they’re positive, they’re working,” said Supervisor Jason Palmer.
The Lifeworks associates don’t get a break when it comes to productivity standards, either.
When the group first started, Midwest Rubber tracked their performance levels, as they do with all of their employees, and worked closely with them to improve by utilizing Lean principles and other methods.
“Those numbers got to where I said I think they could get to, and they even exceeded,” said Director of Plant Operations Bruce Roles. “That’s just made the whole thing work even better than was anticipated going into it.”
Because they took on tasks previously performed by other Midwest Rubber staff members, the Lifeworks associates helped the company further increase productivity.
Looking the part, fitting in
Though the Lifeworks associates are not directly hired by Midwest Rubber, the company has gone out of its way to make them look the part.
“One of our employees from the shop suggested that we get them uniforms,” Palmer said. “They’d look like everyone else, feel like everyone else, and we went ahead and did that so they’re all wearing Midwest Rubber uniforms.”
But it wasn’t always obvious that these individuals were an ideal fit.
“It took me by surprise how much they fit,” said Midwest Rubber President Brent Anderson. “In just a broad sense, a fit for the culture, enhancing the company, and being a positive influence at the same time.”
Whether it’s plucking and stamping, labeling, boxing, or preparing rubber products for shipping, the Lifeworks team stays busy each day.
“They’re doing multiple tasks to take a product that needs multiple things done to it and boxing it per what the paperwork says, for a start to finish process,” Palmer said. “From a cut part all the way to getting it to shipping, and that gives them a heck of a lot more of a sense of accomplishment than being on an assembly line.”
Their work isn’t just a small task, either, but a self-contained, essential process.
“When they’re done with it, it’s finished product,” Roles said. “The next person that sees it is the customer when they open the box up. It’s real work. It’s not just keep busy work, and without that crew in here, with the labor market the way that it is, our guys would be working even more overtime, or we’d be late on more shipments. It’s a valuable, integral part to what we’re doing.”
With many variables and numbers associated with each order, it would be easy for mistakes to happen.
“They’re really good with not making the mistakes,” Ortiz said. “We won’t hear anything bad from them at all.”
Growth and teamwork
For Nicole Laufers, one of the four Lifeworks associates at Midwest Rubber, this position has allowed her to make tremendous strides, both personally and professionally.
Prior to joining the Midwest Rubber crew, Laufers had never stayed in one role or organization for very long.
When she initially was hired, Laufers had a difficult time transitioning from a recreation-based program to working every day.
“She’s night and day from the day that she started here and where she is today,” said Lifeworks Job Coach Kristina Skiles. “I am so proud of that girl. She’s pretty excited to say that she’s been here a year. It’s huge for her and her family.”
In fact, Roles received a letter from Nicole’s mother describing just how much of a difference Midwest Rubber has made.
“You get that letter and it just sort of sits you down for a minute, because you lose focus on the magnitude of the impact that some people are experiencing because of the opportunity they got,” Roles said.
During a stretch recently where many members of the Midwest Rubber team were working long hours, Mike Johnson, another one of the Lifeworks associates, made it a point to let them know he had their backs.
“People are working really long days, and [the Lifeworks associates] are here for a set amount of time,” Palmer said. “He went up to Kristina and said he felt bad, and she says ‘well why do you feel bad?’ Because they have to work the weekend and I want to help them. I shared that with the guys and they’re all like, ‘well, that’s really cool!”
According to Joel Ortiz, who is responsible for giving the Lifeworks associates their work each day, he didn’t have much trouble keeping them busy initially.
“Now, you’ve got to actually stop what you’re doing and make sure they do have work for the whole day because they can actually get just as much done as anybody else,” Ortiz said. “I’ve got to actually work a little bit harder to keep up with them. Watching them grow has been great.”
And it’s not just Joel who has to keep up with them. The Lifeworks associates have an uncanny ability for knowing almost everyone who works at the Plymouth facility, whether they work in other departments or across the building.
“If somebody’s not here, they let the rest of us know that we either need to text that person, email that person, call them – something just to say hi,” Roles said.
With hard work and a positive attitude, the Lifeworks associates have exceeded expectations.
The levels they’ve hit, if they maintain that, I’ll take that all day long and just be happy about it,” Roles said
A successful partnership and future opportunities
Roles said the partnership with Lifeworks initially came about after he was talking to people at other companies, and Lifeworks was repeatedly mentioned.
After Midwest Rubber reached out to Lifeworks and began discussions about the nature of the work, schedules, and other logistics, the mutually beneficial partnership began.
As job coach, Skiles provides support and guidance for the Lifeworks Associates.
“She’s really doing a great job in keeping them together and you can tell that they have a great relationship with her because even though she’s on task and doing the dutiful lead position work, they’re interacting just as jokingly with her as everyone else,” Palmer said.
With the current success of Lifeworks associates at Midwest Rubber, Roles says he envisions other ways in which a diverse workforce can make the company stronger.
“It’s about what else can Lifeworks do to help us out as we keep going forward,” Roles said. “Because we’re growing and our volumes are way ahead of where they were last year, and it looks like that’s going to keep on going. We’re going to need some help to handle that as we go forward. With the same kind of meaningful work.”
For Anderson, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
“I can’t say enough about how big of an impact this has had, how positive it’s been for the company,” Anderson said. “As a business, you’re always looking to enhance your culture and do better for employees. Lifeworks has contributed to both.”
Learn more about partnering with Lifeworks to build a diverse workforce.