During the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, AJM Packaging has maintained its presence as a longstanding member of Michigan’s manufacturing industry and as a substantial employer in the metro Detroit area. The company’s notable success derives in part from its existing business infrastructure as well as pandemic-related market shifts, and its comprehensive, employee-centric response to COVID-19.
With over 63 years in the industry, AJM has grown into one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of high-quality branded and private-label paper products, including paper plates, bowls, cups and bags. This spring, AJM’s natural growth, in combination with the increased demand generated by the COVID-19 crisis, prompted the company to add hundreds of permanent, full-time positions—all within the Detroit metro area. These openings included machine operators, maintenance, mechanics, managers and shift leaders, and general production laborers.
Extensive pandemic-focused safety measures were added to all operations, including hiring. As an essential business operating during the COVID-19 crisis, the company also provided employee bonuses for eligible Detroit employees in recognition of their value as front-line workers.
The first step in AJM’s COVID-19 response was to enact procedures and provide equipment to ensure that its existing workforce was protected from infection as well as transmission. According to experts, epidemiological concerns for pandemic management include taking measures not only for individual safety, but for curbing the further spread of the disease to others. AJM has been headquartered in Detroit since its founding in 1957 and employs many people in the southeast Michigan. That workforce interacts with exponentially more people throughout the Detroit community. During a pandemic, the workforce’s safety affects Detroit’s safety.
“The health and safety of our employees has always been our top priority, but it’s been particularly challenging to safeguard since the arrival of COVID-19,” said AJM’s President Robert A. Epstein. For every shift, prior to entering the facility, each employee is temperature-checked to ensure that no one with a fever (a primary symptom of COVID-19 infection) can come into the enclosed space (where there is a much higher chance of transmission). When their body temperature is deemed safe, the employee is given a new pair of latex gloves (to reduce transmission from one surface to the next) and a mask (which contains aerosolized particles from the nose and mouth). Additionally, staff are sanitizing all surfaces even more frequently than in pre-pandemic sanitization standards.
All of these procedures are being implemented as COVID-19 has spiked demand for paper products, and AJM has increased production to keep up. AJM leadership created a Critical Infrastructure Bonus Plan in May to provide bonuses of up to $1,000 for eligible employees in recognition of the importance of the work they did and their resolve to perform during difficult circumstances.
While the pandemic has increased demand, AJM leadership believe COVID-19 has fundamentally changed buying habits and will continue to fuel the increased need for paper products well into the future. Consumers are now much more attuned to the ways disposable products can help curb the spread of a virus; the increased demand is here to stay, and AJM’s new hires will contribute to the company’s ability to keep up with this demand.
Filling these positions is yet another area of AJM operations that required a thoughtful and thorough approach to COVID-19 safety. The hiring process has been comprehensively safeguarded to protect AJM interviewers as well as members of the Detroit community who are coming to the facilities as applicants.
AJM is conducting its hiring processes at the company’s facilities in Taylor and Southgate, Michigan. At both locations, the company erected multiple open-air tents to maintain social distancing. Candidates can fill out applications online, in their own cars, or in one of these open-air stations.
AJM interviewers wear eye protection, gloves and masks. Prior to the interview, candidates are temperature-checked to ensure that they do not have a fever and are then provided with new gloves and masks. The interview is conducted under an open-air tent, while interviewer and interviewee remain a physical distance of at least six feet. After each interview, the entire area is thoroughly sanitized.
“We will never be casual about other people’s health. We believe this is the right thing to do, hands-down,” said Epstein. “We also hope that these measures demonstrate just how important our employees are to us, from the moment they even contemplate joining the AJM family.”