Investing in people pays dividends for you

In manufacturing, investing in people will have tremendous benefits for a company in the short- and long-term.

By Eric Runge, West Liberty Foods April 17, 2017

In its "People of the Plant Floor" video series, Leading2Lean, a Plant Engineering content partner, has shared the stories of manufacturing workers and their pride in their work. One of the people they interviewed was Eric Runge, a 38-year-old plant engineer for West Liberty Foods in West Liberty, Iowa. The edited transcript of the video follows. The full video can be found here.

You start out your life on a path, and that is your expectation, that is your goal. Sometimes you don’t expect those paths to change.

I had originally started my career path as an automotive mechanic. I went to school through a program for General Motors and as I got into that career it just didn’t work out for me well. I was struggling to make ends meet. Things got a little tough there, transitioning from jobs with bills and such.

I had already started out thinking I was going to be an automotive mechanic. That is what I went to school for and invested money in and everything else, and that didn’t work out. I can’t say exactly how I got through it all. I did focus on work quote a bit, got really involved learning new skills doing several projects. I have always had a passion for learning new things. (At) West Liberty Foods, they were very open and welcoming. They brought me in with minimal experience, and said, "You know, if you are willing to learn and willing to train, we will take you on."

West Liberty is a small town, population roughly 3,000 people. It’s very quiet. I ended up moving to West Liberty and I had worked at the plant for 10 years prior to moving here. It made things a lot more convenient for me just being 10 to 12 blocks from the plant.

I love grilling and cooking. I like to prepare big meals, trying new things. We’ve got three different styles of grills. Being a single father, there are things you have got to be able to do, and one of those is cooking. I am the type of person that when you are going to do something, do it right. I started cooking when I got bored making the same old thing; let’s make something a little fancier and a little more creative. My close friends and family know that when I put on a meal, I put on a meal. I like to impress people.

When I get an opportunity where someone is willing to teach me something, show me something, and it is something I would love to do, I always take advantage of those opportunities. I am not a failure. I will get good at what I do. I push myself. I am big on the quality of work that I do, I want it to be the best.

When I came to West Liberty Foods, I started as a maintenance mechanic. I couldn’t do anything electrically. I wanted to know this stuff and I wanted to be good at it and at some point, from the time I started to roughly a year and a half into it, I was the one that everybody was coming to and asking questions. And when I got awarded that second shift electrician job, it was a big feat for me because I pushed and I tried and I got there.

As far as my role in the company now, I strive to be a leader. When somebody comes to you, saying, "Hey, I want to learn, I know you know how to do this and you can show me," you can’t turn your back on those people. A lot of people have helped me out, helped teach me, helped me work to where I am, and in turn I have helped guys that have come to me for help wanting answers. And the interactions that I’ve had, the good and bad with several people over the years, all those relationships have helped make me who I am.

With my department, the maintenance side of the business, I treat that as that is my family. I reference back to me being the one that didn’t know, but I had the ambition there. You can directly see what you are doing to positively impact another person. You just essentially helped make his life better. You helped make that person more valuable.

Over the years, I have worked with quite a few people. If I were to look back and if people would have not been the way they were with me, then where would I be?

My own personal morals (are that I feel) like you kind of owe something, that you need to give back. That investment comes back, and you have got to find a way to have those relationships to get to where you need to be.