In one room stands a six-foot-tall wall neatly stacked with rows of cubbies that are filled with nail guns. In the next room, people in reflective vests and safety gear use those nail guns, at top speed, to build wooden crates. Welcome to Cratex Industries in Edmonton.
Tom Duguay is the operations manager for Cratex. He has been with the company for 20 years of its 21-year existence. It’s not something you often think about, but the humble crate is quite the road warrior as Cratex’s products end up in some surprising places.
“It goes in spurts,” says Duguay. “Russia will be super busy for a while and Venezuela is a really hot spot right now [too].” Cratex ships all through Europe and Australia as well.
The bread and butter function of Cratex, unsurprisingly, is building crates. It is an export packaging company primarily for the oil patch sector and Cratex ensures that the products entrusted to them arrive at the end user’s location as they found them initially.
Their productivity story is a familiar one. Up until the global economic slowdown around 2008, Cratex was just trying to keep up. The downturn forced them to look inward and develop their staff. Focusing on education was an easy decision for Cratex. Most of the workforce has a Grade 12 education and most of the supervisory and mid-level staff started out on the floor building crates.
However, when Cratex started looking around the educational development options seemed too out-of-the-box. It wanted something more custom-fit for its particular challenges and employees. That’s when they called Productivity Alberta, who connected them with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension and its management training personnel.
The U of A built custom lesson plans – Business 101 and Cratex 101 – for the Cratex employees based on the crate-builders’ important metrics and set goals. To be more effective, Cratex was asked how it wanted the classes to work, what sort of schedule they preferred and then the U of A’s management training team adapted Harvard Business case studies to enhance Cratex’s productivity.
“I definitely found it helpful. It teaches you at how to look at a company from a different angle, not just as an employee but as someone who is really taking ownership of what they do,” says Cratex employee Brandi Pelletier.
A productivity assessment and lean assessment soon followed by Productivity Alberta experts.
“When you’re busy running your company, sometimes you don’t realize all the areas that need attention,” says Duguay, adding the customized education process clarified where his company needed to focus most to improve its efficiency practices.
Even the owner, Ron Holdinga, who sat in on the U of A sessions, learned a lot about his company and his employees. Cratex supervisors and lead hands gained some business knowledge while, possibly the most important, Duguay and other senior management learned what their company’s strengths and weaknesses were.
Duguay acknowledges that while the company has only scratched the surface of what’s possible, he is excited to continue everyone’s productivity journey. He says Cratex has already seen a reduction in overtime and a better team environment since they began implementing improved productivity principles.