Hoffer Plastics Builds Careers Based on the Principle “People Matter”

By Lindsey Munson, editor, Plastics Business

Family-owned since 1953, Robert Hoffer and his wife Hellen started Hoffer Plastics embodying four core values: family, integrity, service and trust. These core values were the pillar that held the company together over three generations, and after 70 years, they continue to forge and build a business based on – service to others and in 2023 launched “Be the company that always does the right thing.”As shared on Hoffer Plastics’ website, “They believed by doing so, successful business and financial results would naturally flow.”

The belief in nurturing talent, fostering growth and empowering the next generation of leaders in the manufacturing industry has been a guiding principle across generations of family leadership. Hoffer Plastics continues to attract, retain and inspire the next workforce.
The belief in nurturing talent, fostering growth and empowering the next generation of leaders in the manufacturing industry has been a guiding principle across generations of family leadership. Hoffer Plastics continues to attract, retain and inspire the next workforce.

Nestled in South Elgin, Illinois, a place that

made Money Magazine’s Top 100 “America’s Best Places to Live” edition in 2007 and 2011, Hoffer Plastics is a global manufacturer that specializes in custom plastics injection molding for the packaging, medical, consumer, industrial, automotive and appliance industries, which produces more than three billion plastics parts annually. With more than 350 employees, its statistics speak volumes from an average tenure of 14 years to 50% of general managers having started in entry-level positions, it is evidence that Hoffer Plastics nurtures, engages and enables its team.

Led by the third generation of Hoffers, co-CEOs Gretchen Hoffer Farb, Charlotte Hoffer Canning and Alex Hoffer, continue to drive forward in the present and plan for the future with their presence and commitment to the company, its customers and overall industry success. Closely working beside the three co-CEOS, are two key leaders in the company who contributed to this article, Jeff Klabunde vice president of operations, and Shari Nelson, director of human resources. Klabunde joined Hoffer Plastics in June of 2023 and is responsible for the oversight of all operations-related functions, including the integration of automation technologies and ongoing maintenance of the organization’s focused manufacturing plants to maximize productivity and operational excellence. Nelson joined the company in September 2023, she is responsible for leading the evolution and implementation of Hoffer Plastics’ human resources strategies while fostering a workplace culture that prioritizes its people.

At the core of any successful manufacturing operation, there’s a crucial constant: the people. Hoffer Plastics lives this truth every day. For 71 years, Hoffer Plastics has always succeeded – and continues to thrive – because of our team members.
At the core of any successful manufacturing operation, there’s a crucial constant: the people. Hoffer Plastics lives this truth every day. For 71 years, Hoffer Plastics has always succeeded – and continues to thrive – because of our team members.

Career Plans for Long-Term Growth
Hoffer Plastics’ slogan that proudly sits below its company logo – “There’s a part of us in every piece” – is a key driver behind each employee’s career growth plan. Building up and putting the power back into its workforce creates a culture of engagement and value giving employees a career path that turns a job into a long-term profession.

Nelson said, “Hoffer Plastics is focused on building careers in manufacturing – both at Hoffer Plastics and with other manufacturers. Our average employee tenure is 14 years, but rather often we celebrate 20-, 30- and 40-year milestones for our employees. In fact, one individual has been with us for 53 of our 71 years.”

In taking a job role and building a long-term career growth plan, Hoffer Plastics invests resources and development opportunities back into its employees to foster their personal and professional needs as well as employee engagement, financial support, education, on-the-job training, mentorship and many others. “Regardless of the education level or background of Hoffer team members,” said Nelson, “we recognize the responsibility to provide adequate training for all employees – both old and new – and well-defined career development tracks.”

She continued, “Hoffer Plastics offers a mix of internal and external training and education opportunities to drive this career growth. We seek employees who are ‘hungry, humble and smart.’ Regardless of the level in the company, employees who seek opportunities with curiosity and openness will have the chance to learn and grow.”

Internal Employee Development
Hoffer Plastics has had great success with employees’ long-term growth but also has experienced the other side of losing employees, so as a company, it is important to have a top-notch employee internal growth strategy. By allowing employees to grow and thrive as professionals, the company is not only creating “long-term” success for themselves but also for the employees, who ultimately, are part of building, developing and maintaining the company culture.

Hoffer Plastics has three employee internal development opportunities:

  • Structured training programs – These programs are offered through the “Hoffer University” to employees. Hoffer University offers a training manual and checklist for each certification level for the majority of its production team members.
  • Leadership Development Training program – Hoffer Plastics over its 70 years in manufacturing has a strong passion for finding and developing emerging leaders. Klabunde stated, “Working from a philosophy that every employee has the potential to lead, whether it’s conversations, projects or programs, Hoffer Plastics creates an opportunity for any employee to grow and lead. This program is comprised of members from all levels of the organization.
  • Custom Development Pathways – These pathways are created across the entire company and directed at employees who have an interest in learning and experiencing different departments and job roles.

External Employee Development
Hoffer Plastics, in partnership with local colleges, offers several apprenticeship programs in mold making, automation and maintenance. Technology and Manufacturing Association offers a three-year apprenticeship program for mold making, while Elgin Community College offers a four-year program to Hoffer Plastics’ maintenance and automation teams. Both programs are DOL certified. Nelson said, “In fact, Hoffer Plastics established the first Department of Labor-recognized injection molding apprenticeship with Elgin Community College in 1979.”

In addition, the company offers tuition reimbursement for education outside of these apprenticeships. Hoffer team members are eligible to participate in this benefit after six months of continuous service and have worked an average of 30 hours a week. Hoffer reimburses up to $2,500 for an undergraduate course at a community college, $3,500 for an undergraduate course at a four-year college or university and up to $5,250 for a graduate course each year.

A Pathway for the Next Generation
“Educating the next generation of employees about the benefits of a career in manufacturing is one of the most important things that Hoffer Plastics can do – both for Hoffer Plastics and for the industry,” said Nelson.

Hoffer Plastics paves the next generations’ career pathways through:

  • The Hoffer Foundation – Made a significant investment in the Boys and Girls Club of South Elgin, which included a state-of-the-art STEM lab that will give local children access to the “cool” side of manufacturing and potential future opportunities.
    “Summer Job” program – This program is done by Hoffer Plastics for students 16 years and older, which gives them a front-and-center taste of manufacturing. It provides students with the opportunity to interact with different departments of the company.
  • Students typically return year after year. Several of Hoffer Plastics’ current and former full-time employees went through this program.
  • On-site Student Tours – Hoffer Plastics regularly hosts students from area high schools and colleges on-site to give them a tour of the facilities and expose them to manufacturing.

A Chance Encounter to Long-term Success
Three generations strong, Hoffer Plastics is known in its community to be an advocate of building up other businesses, people, etc. but most importantly, building career pathways for any person interested in manufacturing. Justin Lindhorn, IT and production planning manager at Hoffer Plastics, was referred to the company years ago by a family member who knew of the Hoffer family. Klabunde shared, “Lindhorn was looking for a stable job to support his family.” He joined Hoffer Plastics as a molding technician, and during his tenure, he held positions of production foreman, operations analyst and IT team member.

“Lindhorn took any opportunity to learn something new,” said Klabunde, “and continually advanced his knowledge through the Hoffer Plastics internal training program. He sought out other departments to collaborate with and in turn, this helped him get insight into how the company operates.” Lindhorn set short- and long-term goals for each of the job roles he held, working closely with his team leader and mentor – always looking at what was next once he mastered the position. Through Lindhorn’s dedication and hard work as an employee throughout the years, Hoffer Plastics supported him in tuition reimbursement, hands-on learning opportunities and numerous mentors to help him grow and develop within his career.

The “Why”
As a third-generation family-owned business, Hoffer Plastics knows that its success is entirely due to its employees. “Through our employee-centered practices, a culture of collaboration and a genuine, collective commitment to each other’s personal and professional success,” said Nelson, “our employees continue to perform at the highest level. The mission is ‘To go ALL IN for people, plastics and purpose.’ By going all-in for employees – our employees go all-in for our customers, partners and the community.”

At Hoffer Plastics, employees across the organization prioritize getting to know their peers, partners and customers – establishing relationships and building personal connections that foster trust, loyalty and confidence.

Klabunde said, “We recognize team members who advance their careers by announcing the promotions through weekly Mid-Week News. In addition to this announcement, we encourage team members to congratulate those who have received a promotion as we believe in the power of a personalized approach.”

In closing, Hoffer Plastics’ core values and guiding principles align with one of the many lessons that its leadership has learned across the company’s 71 years – “People Matter.” Nelson said, “Hoffer Plastics’ co-CEOs continue to demonstrate the importance of people over profits, recognizing that manufacturing is a people business. This seemingly simple notion guides the G3 leadership team to make investments in new technologies to create opportunities for employees, expand skillsets to serve new and growing markets and make business decisions that are in the interest of the team.”

The manufacturing industry is evolving and in constant motion with significant growth expected on the horizon, and with that, comes entry-level job opportunities and a promising career of stability, financial security and professional advancement for the long term. Hoffer Plastics has a 99% delivery on–time record, for one reason and one reason only, because of its core values and building a business on serving three key factors – employees, customers and community.

More information: www.hofferplastics.com