On a recent clear December morning, the only smell of baking cookies was the warm, sweet scent lingering in Charlotte’s Kellogg plant.
Usually you can smell the Famous Amos chocolate chips, Keebler Fudge Stripes and other delectables all over the neighborhood, but on this day, the plant shuttered cookie production for production of another kind: helping its soon-to-be dislocated workers find new employment.
Kellogg announced the cookie manufacturing facility’s closing in February of this year, part of a global effort to increase the food giant’s operational efficiencies. More than 190 jobs will be lost when the doors close at the end of the month.
In September, Charlotte Works’ employer engagement team joined the effort to help a majority of those workers find new jobs as part of North Carolina’s Rapid Response program. Through it, collaborative teams of representatives from the workforce and community college systems, economic development and social services connect workers who are affected by layoffs or closures to community resources.
Julie Paul, business services relationship manager, organized three orientation sessions at the plant to introduce workers to our services and other local resources. She then began planning a job fair timed for the plant’s final production weeks.
She describes it as a true team event: Brooke Privette, research and reporting analyst, scoured NCWorks Online for area employers in similar industries who’d listed positions seeking equivalent skill sets. She combined this list with appropriate companies already in Charlotte Works’ own employer database and contacts from Kellogg’s managers to create a group of 35 companies to invite to the job fair.
N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions’ employment consultants Lavonne Bell, Michael Martin and Reggie Moore, all embedded at Charlotte Work’s Morehead Street location, used the fair as an occasion to educate participants about the NCWorks Online.
In addition, because about 30 of Kellogg’s workers are Vietnamese or Ethiopian and have limited English-language skills, community partner International House provided translators and interpreters to assist.
And Barbara Scannell, youth education and business liaison, helped Paul greet employers and introduce them to the Youth Business Connector.
In the days leading up to the fair, Kellogg’s management team helped the workers create and/or polish their resumes and perfect their networking and interview skills by crafting talking points to showcase their abilities and experience to potential employers.
And so on Dec. 11, the plant closed to host a combination of 10 manufacturing companies and staffing firms seeking to hire in positions ranging from the production line to maintenance. Employers included Snyder’s-Lance, Frito-Lay, Dole Fresh Vegetables, Barnhardt Manufacturing Co., Staffmark and others.
“Kellogg has done a tremendous job of connecting employees with resources way ahead of the job loss,” says Paul. “It’s a community effort to get people back to work with minimal downtime.”
During a mid-morning lull in the action, Maria Soderberg, director of human resources for Barnhardt Manufacturing, sat behind a two-inch stack of applications. She was on the hunt for manufacturing production operators and maintenance managers.
“I’ve looked at their resumes and the talent pool is highly experienced with a good safety mindset,” she said. She particularly appreciated the Kellogg’s workers’ track record with the company, a sentiment echoed by Karol DeWitt, human resources manager with Dole Fresh Vegetables.
“The workers are excellent. They’ve been here a long time and are committed to Kellogg and the job, and they’re interested in getting back to work immediately,” she noted. “I think Kellogg has done a wonderful job of showing dedication to their employees, helping them find work and understanding that they’re an asset to their business.”
DeWitt said she had “probably 80 to 100” applications to review for her open positions including fork lift operators, production leads, QA and sanitation techs and package machine operators.
As for the Kellogg workers themselves, Paul says two approached her at the event to say “they were grateful that we’d brought employers there because it made them more confident that other employers would want them and that they would get another job.”
“It was transformational, because some employees told me they hadn’t done a resume in 15 years and were worried,” she says. “But once they came to the fair, it felt good to see that they were still wanted as employees.”
If you’re an employer looking for high-quality manufacturing or maintenance workers, or want to learn more about Charlotte Works’ services for employers, contact Julie Paul, business services relationship manager, at 704.206.1349.