‘I think attitude trumps everything else’

    Several Milwaukee-area companies are employing the concept of ManpowerGroup’s “Teachable Fit” to fill open positions.

    From manufacturing to marketing, companies are touting the benefits – and often the necessity – of training an employee who may not yet have the specific academic degrees or skill sets needed for a vacant position, but they exhibit the promise of being capable of learning to grow into the job.

    Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. recently announced it is on pace to hire 5,000 financial professionals (including interns) this year, the largest recruiting effort in the company’s 155-year history. The pace of hiring is up about 20 percent from last year.

    To find that many qualified candidates, Northwestern Mutual is getting creative with its recruiting practices, according to Kamilah Williams-Kemp, director of practice management and field training. The company has partnered with several national diversity and inclusion fairs and is spreading the word in the areas around each of its 350 field offices.

    “In addition to connecting with centers for information in a local community, we are partnering with organizations who can drive talent our way,” Williams-Kemp said.

    More than 50 percent of the new hires at Northwestern Mutual are career changers, Williams-Kemp said. The key is to find candidates who are good at networking, fact-finding, listening and being courageous in approaching conversations with potential clients.

    The company does not necessarily target any one industry for career changers, she said. She encourages local offices to stay connected in their communities to find individuals who are bright and talented.

    “For our financial representatives, we’re really looking for some basic character traits that provide us with the opportunity then to train them to deliver financial security to our clients,” Williams-Kemp said. “In addition to building relationships (and being a) good listener, disciplined, we really want to make sure the career aligns with their goals and desires.”

    The company has an extensive training program in place for both new and experienced employees. Northwestern Mutual has about 5,000 employees in Milwaukee County, plus 6,500 financial representatives and 3,000 financial representative interns nationwide.

    Northwestern Mutual has experienced strong retention, and the rate is even better among interns, which Williams-Kemp attributed to strong development and training.

    “Our basic philosophy is that training is a long-term process – it’s not just an event that, ‘Hey, you’re brought on board, you’ve got two weeks for training and you’re done,'” she said. “We’re really committed to ongoing training and development for new recruits.”

    Waukesha Foundry, a Waukesha metal-casting foundry focused on sophisticated alloys, targets employees who have a positive outlook, are forward-thinking and enjoy using technology, said Kari Flanagan, director of human resources of the firm.

    The company has about 150 employees and has hired 25 people during the past year. Chief executive officer Ken Kurek estimates 100 workers will be needed in the next few years to replace an aging workforce and meet increasing demand.

    “In all of our high-skilled positions, everybody is approaching retirement age,” Kurek said.

    Mimi Yang, an accountant supervisor, is one of those replacements. Her predecessor trained Yang before retiring two years ago. Yang had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with an accounting degree, but she did not have any practical experience.

    Now Yang is training Summer Grande, an accounts payable coordinator, who was hired as a temporary employee in December and went full-time in February.

    The goal is to have employees lined up when others retire, so Waukesha Foundry also has an apprentice in its maintenance program and is working on creating a pattern shop apprenticeship, Kurek said.

    Matt Schultz is an apprentice millwright working to keep the company’s machines running smoothly with daily maintenance. He was hired because he had a great attitude and an aptitude for mechanical problem solving, Kurek said.

    “I had worked on car engines, car parts – some of it translates, some of it doesn’t,” Schultz said. “A lot of it was not what you know, but what you can figure out.”

    Flanagan has also been working with local high schools and attending career fairs to recruit candidates who are a “Teachable Fit.”

    “It’s a necessity,” Kurek said. “We can’t find the people that have the skills we need in most cases. I think attitude trumps everything else.”

    Another industrial company that has had difficulty finding skilled labor is Weldall Mfg. Inc., a full-service metal fabrication and processing company in Waukesha. Existing employee referrals are a great source of candidates who are a “Teachable Fit,” said Jenni Zielke, human resources manager for Weldall.

    “Our employees, like most, only tend to refer someone they know will fit our culture and they’re willing to stick their neck out for and recommend,” Zielke said. “We tend to get the same work ethic in the referral as we do in the referee.”

    The company has 270 employees, and hiring is ongoing, with about 20 positions that could be filled immediately if there were enough appropriately skilled workers available, she said. The soft skills that will help a new employee succeed at Weldall are good attendance, a good attitude, safety consciousness and being a self-starter.

    Weldall recently invested in a new training area, with three weld stations and a classroom, where six to eight new employees can be trained at once. It takes between four and 12 weeks to train a new hire, depending on prior experience.

    There’s a risk to investing in training for people who have never welded before and hoping they like the work, but usually the trainee has a good feel for whether they will like the job because they’ve been referred by an existing employee, Zielke said.

    “You have to go down every road possible to find good employees, and this is just one more layer that we feel is helping us to have good workers,” she said.

    West Milwaukee-based Rexnord Corp. also is in hiring mode, with more than 100 positions open across all businesses. The company has about 7,400 employees worldwide, 1,600 of them in Milwaukee, said Jill Glandt, chief human resources officer.

    “We always are looking for technicians, both to work in our industrial factories as well as service technicians,” Glandt said. “We’re constantly trying to make sure we’ve got that feeder pool that goes into those skilled trades positions.”

    Rexnord’s global industrial solutions business includes process and motion control equipment, which is used in industries where downtime is very expensive, so the company needs to fill positions quickly, said Pete Budney, vice president of corporate marketing. When the company could not find the right candidate for a supply chain position, the firm was able to up-skill an engineering employee by training him on how to be a buyer and manage commodities.

    “You’ve got to have somebody that’s got that drive, that ambition, that value,” Glandt said. “It’s harder to teach somebody to be motivated. It’s easier to teach them the specific skills.”

    Boelter + Lincoln, a Milwaukee marketing and communications firm, puts a strong emphasis on fitting the company culture, said Andy Larsen, vice president and director of public relations.

    “In any interview, the X factor is will they fit your corporate culture, and you can’t tell that by a resume,” Larsen said. “How do they present themselves? Do they have charisma? It’s someone who seems generally smart and well-educated.”

    Often, Boelter’s new hires have learned the ropes as interns. A new employee is trained on all the basic packages the company offers to clients and observes senior employees in meetings.

    The company has 25 employees. Supervisors in the same department are encouraged to mentor newer employees.

    “We just draft the best athlete. We don’t go by position,” Larsen said. “We want to take the most generally intelligent, well-educated, broadly educated person, and we’ll teach them our specific skills.”

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