CEOs: Training, culture draws employees to companies

May 9, 2019 GMT

Investments in education for skilled trades and promoting company culture are key in attracting employees, area business leaders said during a CEO panel discussion Wednesday.

The panel – which featured the chief executives of Numerica Credit Union, Wagstaff and Pearson Packaging Systems – was hosted by the Association of Washington Business as part of the orgainzation’s 2019 Spring Meeting at the Davenport Grand Hotel.

A reduction in early education and training in skilled trades created a struggle for manufacturing companies, said Michael Senske, president and CEO of Pearson Packaging Systems.

“I think we need to do a better job of dignifying manufacturing,” he said. “We are finding a lot of people that have an aptitude and they can earn significant wages way above market average, but they are not being exposed to the training that they need early enough.”

Welding and machinist positions have been difficult to fill, and training has been challenging, but Wagstaff is taking steps to raise awareness about skilled trades to attract employees, said its president and CEO, Kevin Person.

Wagstaff partnered with the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce to create a scholarship for students studying technical trades at Spokane Community College. The company also launched an internship program and a production and manufacturing academy that teaches high school students aspects of the manufacturing process.

“Those are the types of things we are willing and able to do, and we are excited about it,” Person said.

Person added technical skills have dropped off the curriculum at schools, which is another challenge manufacturing companies face when recruiting employees.

“We see the results of that. We are having to try to compensate for it,” he said. “We are just promoting those types of jobs. They are good-paying jobs. The environment in manufacturing is much better than what it was in the past.”

In the banking sector, Numerica Credit Union is struggling with attracting financial service representatives, but it’s the opposite for jobs at higher levels at the financial institution, said Carla Cicero, the credit union’s president and CEO.

“People are coming to us and asking us for jobs, so we are pretty pleased about that,” she said. “That has been going on for the last couple of years.”

Numerica Credit Union’s culture focuses on empowering employees and promoting communication within departments, she said, adding the credit union saw a 94% engagement rate on employee surveys.

“I’m an open book,” she said. “I meet with team members all the time. I ask questions of all my leaders so they understand that we’re open to talking with them because we believe knowledge is power and they need to have the knowledge to do their job well.”

Senske said company culture at Pearson Packaging Systems calls for commitment toward continuous improvement while delivering value and empathy to customers, some of which are Fortune 500 companies.

“We are a capital equipment manufacturer, but I always tell our employees – what really differentiates us is keeping those pieces of equipment running and being productive in the field and helping them achieve their goals,” he said. “That’s really done by the people of the organization, not the machines.”

Person said he makes it a point to meet every new employee at Wagstaff as well as express that the company culture is to have fun and work hard.

Wagstaff was named the 2018 Employer of the Year by the Association of Washington Business, which recognized the company’s efforts to recruit and retain employees through competitive wages and benefits.

“(Employees) are very important to the success of Wagstaff. If they ever feel like they are not getting the support they need, they are free to walk into my office at any time and sit down and get the problem off their shoulders, because I’m doing something wrong if they are not enjoying coming to work at Wagstaff.”