By LARRY SHIELDS
SALEM - Hickey Metal Fabrication is rolling at full steam and could hire five to 10 new employees right now, according to Leo Hickey, vice president of the family-owned business.
Justin Kenst of Salem puts a weld on a coupler that will wind up in Alliance at the MAC Trailer, Manufacturing plant for installation there. Kenst has worked at Hickey Metal Fabrication in Salem for 11 years. (Salem News photo by Larry Shields)
There is a sign in front of Plant 2 in the industrial park that says, "Hickey - Now Hiring Welders." Make that welders, machine operators and general labor.
Hickey Metal Fabrication was founded in 1942 by Leo Hickey (Sr.) starting out as a furnace and heating business, expanded into roofing and today supplies fabricated metal parts and steel components to the transportation, railroad and wrecker (tow truck) industries.
"We're in the process of hiring five to 10 now," said Hickey, son of the founder, adding that people can apply at Plant 2 in the industrial park (Phase I) or at the company's main office at 873 Georgetown Road.
Hickey Metal Fabrication employs about 120 people, occupies over 140,000 square feet in four separate buildings and is one of the top steel parts manufacturers in the area. The main plant is in Perry Township and three others are in Salem's two industrial parks.
The machine operators must be able to program CNC machines and Hickey said older machinists don't have that skill set. They are critical needs for a company that hired 20 people in the past year and expects to hire about 20 more in 2012.
"We're a job shop," he said. "We don't need engineers, but guys who can write their programs, take a drawing and write a program."
He pointed to two human resource obstacles: Nobody can pass the drug test; and coming to work on time.
"Our biggest thing is the drug test," Hickey said. "Or they fail to show up. We're being more selective. We're looking for decent, qualified people."
Nick Peters also holds the rank of vice president and is company President Bob Hickey's son-in-law.
"There is very little work ethic. They used to be taught that at home," Peters said.
Hickey added, "We're having trouble finding people to work second shift. We need the plant open 18-19 days a week (by work hour/shift)."
Employees are putting in 10 to 12 hours a day. "We're basically at a 55-hour week," he said, adding they need people to show up. He explained that auto plants can afford labor pools to fill in for absentees.
"We're becoming like that," he said. Partly, as a result of that, the company cross-trains employees in two or three skill sets so they can fill in. "Sometime you have to do it based on your needs," he said.
"We supply the world's largest wrecker manufacturer," he said, which means if you see a wrecker, no matter how big, whether it's boom lift or slide carrier (tiltbed), Hickey Metal Fabrication made something on it.
It fabricates and welds the 16-foot sections for the biggest wreckers made, including the U.S. armed forces Maxxpro deployed to units around the world. The Hickey brand is on 379 of those monsters that can haul 81,000 pounds and were designed as a recovery vehicle for the the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) fighting vehicle.
It also builds single, double and triple-stage booms for wreckers that can retrieve vehicles weighing up to 50 tons.
"We have four guys building booms every day," Hickey said, explaining the company is not in competition for welders with MAC Trailer, which needs aluminum welders. Hickey Metal Fabrication makes between 20 to 25 coupler assemblies for MAC a week. They're shipped to MAC's Alliance plant.
"We train our welder, ours are American Welding Society 1.1 certified and we run a specific type of welding, a new type," he said.
Rail transportation parts comprise about 15 percent of the business which makes parts and weldments for freight cars.
The company operates a CNC laser cutting center, CNC machine center, press brakes and punch presses, shears and saws.
Last April, it installed a high-dollar (well into six figures), robot-armed bridge mill capable of drilling 24 holes in about two minutes with a $300 bit. "It added a whole new customer and a whole shift of production," Hickey said, adding they use robots "anywhere we can, anything with volume."
But robots still need a human resource.
Hickey Metal Fabrication is also a longtime sponsor of "The National Flag Truck," one of the country's most honored vehicles.
For more information, visit: www.hickeymetal.com.
Larry Shields can be reached at email@example.com