IOM July 2021 Play news

From hefty hiring bonuses to billboards to ubiquitous “now hiring” signs, employers are trying everything to attract — and retain — talent. 

Beyond traditional strategies, leaders at AriensCo have challenged themselves to get creative on the recruitment and retention front. The latter is equally, if not more, important than the former. 

“This has really been quite a challenge for us. Once we get our candidates on board, we have to continue to find ways to manage that talent,” says Tracy Tuschel, senior manager of human resources for AriensCo, which also offers a $2,000 signing bonus to new hires.

In addition to providing that financial incentive, the company wanted to invest in its employees’ futures. The manufacturing world is changing quickly, and AriensCo recognized the need for programs to help develop internal talent. That desire, along with the business’s dedication to fostering intellectual curiosity, led to the creation of a continuing education program specific to its own employees.

AriensCo turned to long-time partner Fox Valley Technical College to help it develop the program, which it offers to employees at Ariens Academy in Brillion. The academy offers an educational environment for AriensCo employees and dealers. The first cohort began last fall and includes seven students taking part in a quality program, all working in the quality department but lacking any credentials. 

FVTC created a unique certificate offering, AriensCo quality technician, exclusively for the company. The first cohort will graduate next spring with a technical diploma and can choose to go on to pursue an associate degree. 

AriensCo pays upfront for employees’ tuition and books as well as providing laptops for those who need them. Students also have access to a computer lab and a quiet learning area at the AriensCo Museum. At the same time, students must complete the coursework on their own time, with options to flex their schedules if needed.

“There’s a little bit of having skin in the game,” says Janet Braun, department chair of manufacturing operations for FVTC.

FVTC took its quality associate degree program and allowed AriensCo to pick and choose courses it wanted students to take to earn that first certificate. Tuschel says the company wanted to ensure the coursework supported the work employees were doing on the job.

As students progress, they also can receive credit for prior learning. For example, AriensCo offers a lean practitioner program, so if participants have completed that, they can get credit toward both the certificate and associate degree program.

Tuschel says the format of the program, which benefited from a Workforce Advancement Training grant for incumbent workers, provides students a supportive environment that’s also flexible, including some coursework offered in a hybrid in-person/virtual format. It’s also broken into attainable milestones.

“It really was a way to provide our employees with something we knew they could achieve while they’re working full time. They have family obligations and that can be challenging, let alone the whole past year that we’ve experienced with COVID,” she says.

Braun anticipates the grow-your-own approach will continue to gain traction for employers, especially in a time of job hopping and bringing people on and training them, only to see them move elsewhere. Instead, businesses can invest in incumbent workers who already know and like the company.

AriensCo has seen great enthusiasm surrounding the program and saw more interested parties than spots available for a cohort forming this fall, which is being offered to manufacturing team members who want to work in quality. No one will be left behind, however. Those who can’t participate in the program can complete other coursework and training that will prepare them to participate in a future cohort.

Tuschel says AriensCo plans to continue to create offerings, including a manufacturing leadership program.

“By doing so, we’re creating an engaged workforce and that leads to improved efficiencies, and it really just leads to improved business,” she says.