Building a Dynamic Workplace Culture

Now, more than ever before, the public image of a company can have a profound impact on nearly everything from sales to brand loyalty and, especially, talent acquisition. Millennial and younger generations entering the workforce are more interested in finding employers who are ethical, diverse and inclusive and who care about their well-being outside of the work day.

For years, manufacturing has fought against the traditional stigma that the industry is dirty, back-breaking work which has helped fuel the ongoing talent shortage crisis. However, that perception is changing thanks to industry-leading companies right here in Michigan that have created inclusive, supportive and dynamic work environments through engagement and community-based programs.

It Starts with Community Engagement

“I think what's changed in the last few years is we realized we had to get out and start to make an impact in the community in order to try to drive talent,” says Matt Carr, President and CEO of Storch Products, a Livonia-based worldwide manufacturer and reseller of magnetic products and components.

Carr and Storch Products are a great example of how engaging with your community is a key ingredient in being a good corporate citizen. This relationship with residents and community stakeholders is, of course, mutually beneficial. As companies support the community with philanthropy, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, sustainability efforts and other forms of engagement — that can give them a leg up in attracting local talent.

For example, national MFG Day is an annual event that exposes thousands of students to the industry and career opportunities. School districts in southeast Michigan send their students on a day-long tour of regional manufacturing facilities which fulfills a valuable need for Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum. Conversely, the companies that participate create valuable exposure to the industry which helps support the talent pipeline. It’s a win-win!

“Every year, our company participates in MFG Day. It's critical to expose students to as many different aspects of manufacturing as possible,” says Carr.

Over the years, Storch has cultivated a partnership with the Canton-based MIAT Technical College which has seen its enrollment steadily increase over the years thanks to these types of efforts. Storch recently donated a $15,000 press brake to the college to support the 100-plus students enrolled in the welding program.

On Oct. 1, Storch participated in MFG Day, held annually to expose high school students to the manufacturing industry, and held a virtual tour for more than 7,000 area students. Carr says they were able to tour every aspect of operations from engineering, laser cutting, machining, welding to sales and marketing and bookkeeping. 

“It was a great way to show far more students a tour of our facility than we would have been if it were in person,” says Carr. “This was significant to every company involved for that reason alone. Whether it’s virtually or in person, (MFG Day) going to continue to benefit a lot of students.”

Storch isn’t the only organization investing in local partnerships. Eaton Corporation, a worldwide power management company, has found creative ways to encourage young people to take up a career in manufacturing.

Monica Jackson, Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at Eaton, says it’s critical to meet the next generations halfway and demonstrate your investment in them and how you are a good corporate citizen.

“It’s all about meeting them where they are at,” says Jackson. “Get involved in education to build up your talent pipeline and remain relevant in community activities.”

Jackson goes on to say that Eaton maintains internship and work co-op programs with regional universities which has definitely bolstered their recruitment efforts.

“We actively recruit at target universities in the area,” says Jackson. “We have apprentices, co-ops and intern programs at Michigan State, Western Michigan, the University of Michigan and more. We engage with the high school, and even elementary school kids — donating books and a gift card to Stevenson School in March for reading month. It’s never too early to begin building that pipeline.”

Attracting talent is one thing but focusing on creating an inclusive and supportive work culture that engenders long-term loyalty is another. Eaton has built a successful pipeline of employees from all walks of life by investing heavily in inclusion practices and programs. By the end of 2020, 50 percent of the board of directors were either women or U.S. minorities, and U.S. minorities comprised 54 percent of the global leadership team.

Jackson explains this effort has been building over the years.

“Our prior CEO was part of creating our first official diversity and inclusion organization and office, if you will,” says Jackson, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the social and racial unrest over the last year heightened many organizations’ efforts and awareness but, for us, it just reaffirmed that we were focused on the right things.”

Eaton has Employee Resource Groups (iERGs) that are connected to important community voices and help to shape external programs benefiting under-represented minorities and the communities they support.

“For example, our supplier diversity leader sits on the board of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, so we're engaged in mentoring and developing Michigan Hispanic businesses across the state,” says Jackson. “We participate in the annual Michigan Minority Procurement Conference every year. Eaton employees also volunteer with Genesis House, serving homeless women and children, as well as organizations that serve veterans, LGBTQ and other minority groups,”

Jackson adds: “There's so much that our employee resource groups do, not only to advance our culture internally but to make a difference in the communities where we work.”

Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering, a large-part plastic injection molding company, found their niche in creating an equitable work culture by starting their Returning Citizens Program, which aims to find gainful employment for previously incarcerated individuals by removing common barriers.

“A long time ago, we started with a Welfare to Career Program. It's morphed into our Returning Citizens Program but it's really about wrapping services around our employees so that they can pull themselves out of poverty,” says Christina Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering.

Program implementation is far from simple. Being a wrap-around program, it involves more than simply providing a paycheck.

“One of the biggest barriers to returning citizens is finding a stable job and a stable income, and we really help provide that,” says Amy Caudle, Marketing Manager at Cascade Engineering. “

“Our program partnerships help people find stable housing and provide transportation through our Wheels to Work program, which provides a bus line that comes right in front of all of our production facilities. We strive to remove as many barriers as possible and we work with a ton of local agencies on identifying these barriers.”

Sometimes achieving success comes down to just having more support.

“Just feeling supported is sometimes one of the biggest challenges for formerly incarcerated individuals,” says Caudle. “People want to feel supported, and we hope to provide that, or we are able to support them to find the resources that they need. That's one of the biggest benefits of our Returning Citizens Program — being able to send someone in the right direction to find the resources that they are looking for.”

Jahaun McKinley, Lean Manufacturing Engineer at Cascade Engineering, is one of many who have benefitted from the Returning Citizens Program. McKinley was incarcerated for 19 years and upon his release was hired at Cascade. He was promoted to a supervisor position within a year and recently moved into a manager role.

As McKinley says, “Success is when potential meets opportunity. Now, my potential is to grow so when the next opportunity comes along, I am ready. I want to be the first African American Director of Operations (at Cascade).”

Caudle says this opportunity helped put McKinley on the road to success and there are so many more who just need an opportunity in order to overcome myriad barriers.

“After he was hired, Jahaun was able to purchase his own home and get married and really set up his life for success. He contributes that success to getting an opportunity to get a steady job and earn a steady paycheck.”

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Talent retention and recruitment are important motivators behind building a healthy company culture and community involvement but those are certainly not the only reasons employers care. Sometimes, being inspired by a personal story about how their work changed someone’s life is what motivates employers to keep showing up for community members.

Matt Carr from Storch remembers meeting a student from Tinkham Educational Center, which participates every year in MFG Day. Tinkham is a training academy that helps students who have dropped out of traditional high school. When the student approached Carr during a tour of the facility and said, “I want to get a job here, right now,” Carr felt inspired but advised that he needed to finish the program.

“So, I gave him one of our special, molded MFG Day magnets and told him ‘You hang onto this, stick it on the fridge. When you finish school, you come back … I'll stop whatever it is I'm doing to interview you. This is your ticket to make it back in the door,” says Carr.

Carr says just a few months later, he received a notice from the school that the student had accelerated and finished the program early. These types of stories are important examples of why opportunities for engagement, like MFG Day, are so important.

“It was clear that the students needed this opportunity to look into the everyday life of a manufacturer. This was a path. This was an opportunity,” says Carr.

Ultimately, the long-term benefits of community involvement can make a change in an individual’s life or, in some cases, the lives of millions.

Christina Keller from Cascade points to a startling statistic that is already affecting manufacturing but will have much more impact in the next 10 years. As more and more of the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, it’s estimated there’ll be close to 3.5 million manufacturing positions unfilled. To Keller, the solution to the worsening talent shortage is clear.

“As a nation, we have 40 million people in poverty and 20 million people with former felonies,” says Keller. “Many of these individuals are people of color, who are disproportionately affected. If we can figure out ways to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society, we can solve the talent shortage challenge and give people an opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty and have fulfilling lives.”

For companies like Cascade, working toward business and revenue goals isn’t mutually exclusive from things like helping disenfranchised portions of the population and enhancing society at large — in fact, they can be the same goals. Cascade’s triple bottom line philosophy — People, Planet, Profit — aims to create sustainability for the business while partnering with the community so everybody wins. 

These same thoughts are top of mind for Monica Jackson at Eaton Corp. Diversity, inclusion, talent retention and recruitment mean more than hiring staff: It means engaging the community as a whole.

“Our mission as a company, which is to improve the quality of life and the environment, ties so closely to the communities where we operate,” says Jackson. “Yes, we have a commitment to our stakeholders but we also have a commitment to society. That's what's critical for us — to ensure that we are engaged and we really help advance those communities so they are prosperous and continue to thrive.

“In Michigan alone, we have close to 2,000 employees that live and/or work here. We are deeply committed to bettering the places where our employees live and work. By ensuring that we have good paying, stable jobs that can allow communities to prosper, we are simultaneously creating a prosperous future for our state.”

Investing in the Future

The ultimate goal of any employer is to attract and retain happy, committed employees who in return produce promising work. In order to achieve this goal, employers need to invest in the journey.

Offering stable pay and good benefits is just the first step. As the workforce shifts and younger generations take over leadership positions, employers will be expected to invest significantly in diversity, inclusion and community engagement to remain competitive. The good news is, there is a large pool of candidates: returning citizens, racial and ethnic minority groups, LGBTQ groups and more are all excellent places for manufacturers to invest in to create the ideal workplaces of tomorrow.

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