It all started with a conversation in a parking lot.
Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry CEO Sachin Shivaram was chatting with a second-shift employee outside the WAFCO building one evening last summer when he happened to glance into the man’s car.
- “[I notice] he’s got a car seat in there, so I ask him, ‘What do you do for child care?’” Shivaram recalled. “He said he’s a single dad of a 4-year-old daughter, and he takes her to a different [caretaker’s] house every night. I thought, ‘That can’t be a good environment for her.’ It got me thinking, ‘How can we help this man get better care?’”
Oasis needed: Shivaram aims to find out. While the top executive of a century-old aluminum casting and molding manufacturer may seem an unlikely advocate for affordable child care, helping employees care for their kids has practically become a business imperative for WAFCO.
- “When the frenzy of the labor shortage got going, we connected” child care and the inability to fill jobs, Shivaram said, adding that the Manitowoc area is a “child care desert” with few available spots in centers. “One day we had no women on second shift, [yet] women are 50% of the population. We realized, ‘If we’re going to make a dent in the labor shortage, we have to fix this.’”
Lending a hand: So, the company started trying to do just that. On Shivaram’s watch, it began giving employees $400 a month in child care reimbursement, on top of its $27-an-hour median wage, health care benefits and double pay for overtime.
- WAFCO has also purchased spots, when available, at a high-quality local day care center owned by the wife of a company associate and subsidized the cost of those spots for employee children.
Doing even more: In addition to setting aside $1 million of its own capital for the creation of a child care center, WAFCO applied for $5 million of grant money last year in a state program’s first round. While the company didn’t get the funds then, Shivaram plans to redouble the firm’s efforts and apply for round two this year.
What’s next: WAFCO has identified a site for the planned center, a former adult day care facility. It is also working with KinderCare Learning Centers, the Oregon-based childhood-education company, to decide on an operating model.
Industry-wide efforts: WAFCO’s initiative is part of a larger wave of manufacturers offering increasingly competitive benefits—including child care—for their teams.
- The Iowa-based Vermeer Corp. has full onsite child care facilities for the children of its employees.
- Rockwell Automation, headquartered in Wisconsin, has a generous “caregiver leave” policy to allow workers to take paid time off to look after dependents.
- When schools were closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania-based i2M employed teachers to host onsite learning “pods” for the children of employees. The company is now working on a similar setup for after-school care.
The NAM says: “As we look to close the skills gap and resolve ongoing talent shortages, manufacturers continue to outperform other industries when it comes to pay and benefits packages they offer,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. The MI is the NAM’s workforce development and education partner.
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