Growing your own

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You’ve most certainly noticed that the economy has shifted gears over the last few months. Companies are cutting back, tightening their purse strings.

And while the unemployment rate has been slowly rising from an historic low, I’ve observed a trend that seems to contradict the statistics economists are feeding us on a daily basis: Most companies are actually hiring right now.

That’s right. As they tighten their budgets, they’re still looking for good workers to fill critical roles. At the same time, their present employees are being asked to do more with less, and the need for skilled, results-oriented workers has become more of a priority.

If you’re one of those companies looking for exceptional workers, you’re probably not finding the worker pool you need from your classified ads. A new economy begs for a new way to take action. Here are some examples of what your peers are doing to attract new workers.

Akron’s FirstEnergy Corp., a diversified energy utility operating company, comprises the nation’s 10th largest electric system, serving 2.2 million customers. Deregulation, mergers and a unique challenge caused by the prediction that 40 percent of the company’s work force will retire within the next eight years have forced management to look for new ways to find employees.

As a result, FirstEnergy is working with Lakeland Community College in Kirtland and Stark State College of Technology in Canton to develop a replacement strategy called Power Systems Institute. Students of the program spend half of their class time (2 and 1/2 days a week) at a FirstEnergy facility, receiving hands-on training from company instructors. The program takes 21 months to complete, and graduates are given special consideration for employment at FirstEnergy.

Many of the large auto dealers in Akron and Canton have already figured out how to grow their own qualified employees — they have joined alliances with local technical schools to ensure the skills and training of their future employees. Over the years, it’s been more difficult for auto and truck dealers to fully staff their service departments. Through these alliances, dealerships have been able to participate in educating future generation of mechanics.

And for those smaller- and mid-sized companies that may not have the financial resources to contribute to the education of future employees, Stark Truss Co. of Canton offers another solution. This growing company has maintained a tradition of hiring employees while they’re still in high school. Many of those hired in their teens have grown through the ranks to reach management positions.

In addition, the company doesn’t frown on nepotism. In fact, employees are encouraged to recommend family members for open positions. The theory is that relatives of Stark Truss employees already know the hard work that’s expected of their family members. Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.