A company-wide diversity effort, along with changing community demographics, has opened up more jobs to more people

Walking through the Mercury Marine manufacturing operation as recently as 10 years ago, one would see a workforce that was largely old, male and white. Today, a company-wide diversity effort, changing community demographics, the addition of technologically-advanced workstations and automation have opened up more jobs to more people, and nowhere is that more evident than age and gender.

Entering the 21st Century, more than half of Mercury Marine’s workforce had 25 years or more of experience, a percentage that held through the early stages of the US recession, until approximately 2009, when the number of hourly employees reached a low of 889.

Today, albeit with more than 2,100 full-time hourly workers, that number is 10%, with the average length of service between five and nine years.

“The world has changed, where you tend to see people moving from organisation to organisation, much more so than certainly 25 years ago, even 10 years ago,” Mercury Marine’s human resources VP Andres Gonzalez told IBI. “There is something to be said for seniority and for people who have history in a workplace. Institutional knowledge is still important, and certainly something we hope to see is continuing to have a workforce with long service.”

Notably, 17 of Mercury’s manufacturing employees have 45 years or more with the company.

While there have always been a fair number of women employed by Mercury Marine – rural American farm wives often took jobs for the extra income and benefits – the majority were in sales and administrative functions. On the shop floor, women largely filled ‘light duty’ jobs, like applying decals or driving forklifts.

In the past five years, the company says, the number of women in core assembly jobs has increased 20%. Very nearly half of the final assembly workers – some 48% – are female.

“No one has to lift 40-pound blocks up all the time,” said Mercury president Chris Drees. “We have lifting devices to help people and the things that were very difficult to do, we’ve added robots to do that.

“In the past, we used to pull a block out, put it on the line, manually run it through a saw; it was very difficult labor, but we automate those things.”

Drees said despite the increase in automation, no jobs were lost, though the job skills are beginning to change.

“Computer programming, controls engineering, we can’t hire enough. That’s the future. So, going for a two-year technical college, [in one of those areas], we have a job for you.”

Both Mercury Marine and its parent company, Brunswick Corp, have seen significant increases in female executive level positions during the same five-year period.