Not many manufacturers can say COVID-19 heralded the start of something great for their businesses, but Alex Grover may be the exception.
At Grover’s company, the Mountain Top, Pennsylvania–based plastics film manufacturer i2M, the pandemic gave rise to two important new employee offerings: Innovation 2 Education (i2E) and Innovation 2 Transportation (i2T).
A pandemic “pod”: To enable employees to keep coming to work when schools closed in early 2020, Grover, who is president of i2M, hired a local school teacher and offered an onsite learning pod for employees’ children.
- The pod endured for several months during the height of the virus’ first wave, enabling i2M team members who were also parents to work and earn money—without having to worry about child care or education.
A larger offering: Yet, as schools began to reopen in 2021, Grover and her team realized the need for child care was not subsiding. In fact, for parents of younger, non-school-age children, it had become even more pronounced than before.
- “People weren’t able to rejoin the workforce—not because they didn’t want to, but because there were new barriers,” Grover said. In families “with two working parents, a lack of accessible child care made it difficult for one parent to work in manufacturing. In single-parent households, it was essentially impossible.”
- Compounding the problem for manufacturing workers is the fact that good care offerings are often only available during the day. “Child care today is typically designed for 9-to-5 office jobs,” Grover said. “In smaller communities like Mountain Top, it is not usually aligned with work that involves 12-hour shifts.”
Changing the face of care: Grover and her team set out to change that. Working with local child care services provider Building Blocks, another woman-owned business in the area, i2M began offering subsidized, extended-hours child care for employees’ kids in January of this year.
- “The goal of developing this program with Building Blocks was, ‘How do we better align the hours to fit with a manufacturing schedule?’” Grover said. “It’s up to businesses to support their team with child care solutions that are a win for all.”
What’s more, Building Blocks is currently considering offering overnight care for the children of third-shift workers.
Gunning for success: Another challenge i2M has set out to solve is an often cited one among i2M employees: transportation. In late 2021, the company rolled out its i2T plan, a partnership with the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, to give interest-free loans to i2M team members for car repair or replacement.
- “It’s super disruptive for both the team member and plant operations when a machine operator can’t come in because their car breaks down or they need emergency repairs,” Grover said. “So, we developed the program to provide fast solutions when that happens.”
Thus far, the program has paid out more than $23,000 in 0% interest loans to its team members, who have the principal automatically deducted from their paychecks each pay period.
- Since starting the program, “there have been zero call-offs due to transportation issues,” Grover said.
Next steps: There are plans to expand both i2E and i2T.
- i2M owns a 12,000-square-foot space just up the street from its manufacturing facility and is currently determining how to turn it into a full-time child care center, both for employees of i2M and for other local companies.
- Grover is also working on developing a car-loan program framework that i2M can “roll out to other manufacturers,” she said.
The last word: As Grover put it, “There’s so much opportunity to remove barriers to manufacturing employment. The more people we can bring into the workforce, the greater our ability to deliver results for our customers, our community and the manufacturing industry.”