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How Cinram Hired a Heap of Help - in a Hurry

December 1, 2000
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Cinram has always been good at adaptingto new situations. A leading manufacturer of prerecorded VHS video cassettes,audio cassettes, audio CDs, CD-ROMs, and digital versatile discs (DVDs) formajor movie studios, music labels, software companies, and publishers worldwide,the company has learned to be flexible in a rapidly changing market. It wasn’ttoo long ago that eight-track tapes went out of fashion, after all. 

    That flexibilitycame in handy when the company won an exclusive contract to manufacture video,CD, and DVD products for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The challenge tofulfilling that contract? Cinram had to hire an extra 500 employees in sevenweeks. 

    “We used severalstrategies,” says Peter Hassler, HR manager for the company’s plant inHuntsville, Alabama, which would be the site of all the new production. “Thefirst goal was getting a good staff that was capable of working extraordinaryhours in a round-the-clock situation. We sourced local candidates for productionpositions and used referrals and search firms like (Florida-based) MillenniumSearch, Inc., to identify specific talent required to put together adistribution center. With that, we were able to identify a significant candidatepool, and from that to hire as much of the management team as possible.” 

    In order to fillsupervisory positions, Cinram decided that it would promote between 30 and 50percent from within, then hire the rest externally, as the Huntsville plant hadbeen previously dedicated solely to distribution, not manufacturing. The newrole demanded new talent. 

    To make matters morecomplicated, the plant didn’t have the luxury of hiring a new staff, trainingthem, and then getting down to brass tacks. Instead, work was getting under waywhile the hiring process was happening. 

    Faced with adaunting task, Hassler and his team set out to recruit a brand-new workforce.“We had a groundbreaking ceremony that got a lot of press coverage,” hesays. “That helped us as much as any advertising campaign. We used classifiedads, and the Alabama Employment Office helped us screen candidates. We were ableto get more than 100 applications a day processed. From those 100 applications aday, we were able to select enough candidates to hire a hundred people a weekfrom the Fourth of July to Labor Day.” 

    No mean feat,considering the current labor shortage and low unemployment. Huntsville’sunemployment rate has recently hovered between 2 and 4 percent. Hassler chalksup the success to competitive wages, good benefits, and clean work conditions.

    “It’s a goodwork environment,” he says. “That all contributed to source enoughapplicants to fill the bill. Though unemployment is low, we were able to getenough quality candidates. Some positions were tough, though, like some of themore technical areas. We had to search a little bit further, with professionalsocieties and such.” 

    Mike Collaizzi,president of Millennium Search, Inc., was one of the people who had to findsomeone for one of those hard-to-fill positions. “The biggest challenge,” hesays, “was finding someone who had technical experience in distribution, andwho had experience with multiple products in a high-volume setting. I identifiedabout 30, and spoke to 20 of them. I sent four candidates to Huntsville tointerview for the position. The candidate that got hired was from Baltimore. Allof this took place in about 10 days.” 

    It’s notsurprising that local workers found the idea of a job with Cinram attractive:the company has been honored for its benefits before. For instance, the Torontoplant was listed in the recent book Canada’s Top 100 Employers. 

    “Cinram,” saysthe book, “provides a comprehensive employee benefits package that includesdental, eye care, prescription drugs, extended health (including semi-privatehospitalization and supplemental medical insurance), personal leave, and grouplife disability insurance. The company also provides a series of financialbenefits, including a share-purchase program, a group registered retirementsavings plan, discounts on company products and a year-end bonus.” Otherbenefits include ongoing employee development through in-house traininginitiatives and tuition subsidies for courses at outside institutions. 

    One of the problemsthat Hassler expected to face was high turnover. From the outset, he expected tosee 20 percent turnover -- which is exactly what he got. “People find out thatthe type of work isn’t suited to them,” he says, “or that the 12-hourshift doesn’t suit them.” 

    In order to fulfillthe contract with Fox, Cinram needed the Huntsville plant to work around theclock, a serious problem for a company that tries to be sympathetic toemployees’ work/life needs. It took some inventive scheduling to accommodateeveryone. 

    “We work a shiftthat’s composed of four teams,” says Hassler, “alternating weekends andfour days off at a time. Some people can’t do that, but for those who can,it’s a great structure. You get a couple days off in the middle of the weekevery week. What it required of the managers and the HR employee staff was threemonths of Mondays, no weekends, and 16-hour days. Because the paper flow and the number of people you have to talk to is enormous, just gettingthem signed up on the payroll was an immense job. 

    “For many of theweeks, we were conducting orientation on the sidewalk, because our conferencerooms were too full. Whatever came our way, we were just determined to deal withit and do whatever we had to do to make it work. It takes dedicated staff with ahigh tolerance for long hours and perseverance. It’s more like a marathon thana sprint.” 

    The plant’sproduct-sorting lines began operating in July, and every week from then on,Cinram started another part of the operation. “We started with one majorwarehouse facility,” says Hassler, “and added four more with a combined500,000 square feet and an additional warehouse to help place product.Ultimately, we’ll have have 10 warehouses, and the home plant will have800,000 square feet. We’ll be the largest facility in the Huntsville area.” 

Workforce, December2000, Vol. 79, No. 12, pp. 118-119  Subscribenow!

 

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