Butterball Farms knows this. That’s why the southwest-side producer of novelty-shaped butter pats became interested in a concept called “advancement streaming.”
The idea is simple: Encourage employees to stick around in normally high-turnover positions for a set period of time, and then reward them for having done so.
Many companies reward their long-standing employees by giving them bonuses or extra time off. Few reward them by finding them new jobs.
Cecilia Garcia is a core operator at plastics manufacturer Cascade Engineering. Two years ago she was just beginning a job at Butterball Farms, which is where she learned about the advancement stream program the two companies participate in. She knew that if she stuck with the cold, repetitive and often dull work at Butterball for one year and maintained a good standing with the personnel department, she would have an opportunity to move up to a better job at Cascade Engineering.
“It was like a challenge,” she said. “I don’t want to be somewhere for a long period of time. I want to do new things.”
Thanks to Cascade’s reimbursement for continuing education, Garcia sees herself moving off the production floor and into an office job within a few years. In the meantime, she’s happy working at Cascade. The company granted her maternity leave after just a few weeks on the job and held her position until she returned. She is currently in the lowest “A” level of Cascade’s four-tiered internal advancement system. Increased responsibilities and increased pay await her once her two small children get a little older and she can dedicate more time to classes and career improvement.
None of this would have been possible if she had stayed at Butterball Farms, according to Andrew Brower, executive director of The Source, a human resources coalition formed by private enterprise, government agencies and nonprofits. Before joining The Source, Brower managed the human resources department at Butterball Farms, so he knows first-hand how difficult it is to keep workers in arduous, relatively low-paying positions.
In the case of Butterball Farms, he said the advancement pyramid is heavily weighted at the bottom. There are around 150 entry-level production workers, a handful of supervisory positions and the front-office staff. So the chances are slim of an incoming worker sticking around long enough to make his way through the ranks.
“We’ve got folks that are doing all the things that we’re asking them to do, they’re just trapped in a place where there’s not a lot of opportunity,” said Brower. “So the whole focus is trying to find opportunities for those people who are feeling trapped.”
The Butterball-to-Cascade advancement seems to work best, Brower said, but there have been a few other examples. The Source has moved one worker up to plastics firm Vi-Chem Corp. Another went to metal stamping company Pridgeon & Clay. That worker managed to double his hourly wage in less than a year because of his expertise with a particular piece of metal stamping equipment.
Since creating the program, Brower has implemented some extra steps, possibly making advancement more difficult but making the workers who go through the steps all the more marketable. For example, the group requires participants to take a financial literacy course. There are a handful of other courses related to language and literacy training, home ownership and health care.
The problem that The Source is facing now is not a shortage of program participants — it’s a shortage of new jobs for them. Cascade Engineering is not currently hiring. Neither is Pridgeon & Clay. Brower would like to move 20 to 25 workers through the program each year, but said he is stymied by a lack of companies that are able to take on these freshly minted, highly trained workers.
“Employers are probably asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Well, these are really good employees,” said Ron Jimmerson, Cascade Engineering’s human resources manager.
Brower has extended an invitation to any company that is looking for workers to come and join The Source. In addition to hiring some of the program graduates, he hopes that more companies will learn to appreciate the collaborative “planned turnover” system that the current companies have implemented, and get involved.
Brower can be reached at (616) 452-5295. More information about The Source is available at www.grsource.org