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Redefining Construction and Manufacturing Workplaces
Published Monday, November 6, 2017

As a thank you, PROCON treated its field employees to a private behind-the-scenes tour of Gillette Stadium. Courtesy photo.

While the tight labor market is difficult for many companies, construction and manufacturing are especially hard hit. Talk to leaders in those sectors and they tell similar tales.

Students, parents and guidance counselors have antiquated notions of these industries and even those students who would be better served in the trades aren’t being shown the valuable career opportunities that exist.

Making it worse, both industries are facing an aging NH workforce. But this year's Best Companies are fighting back.

“The talent gap for construction is huge, particularly in the trades,” says Joseph Barbone, president and CEO of Methuen Construction in Plaistow. “We are seeing shortages across the board.”

In response, Methuen is strengthening relationships with the community college system, high school vocational centers and career fairs. “We want to show candidates what we can do,” Barbone says.

And Methuen has a lot to show, starting with a new facility with a modern esthetic. The company offers an impressive benefits package, but it’s the culture that motivates prospects to build careers there.

Methuen offers Methuen University that includes a state-approved apprenticeship program, seminars for personnel at all levels, project management courses and a leadership track, among other offerings.  

“It’s what it takes to be successful,” Barbone says. “We have to have the best team in the industry and to have that we have to attract the best talent and to attract that we have to offer a track to a career and give them an environment to thrive in.”

Other factors that breed loyalty include transparency and communication. “It makes them feel like part of the process and the success of the company,” Barbone says. “They are not just here eight hours a day to collect a paycheck. They are contributing.”

All employees participate in a bonus program and health insurance premiums for employees and their families are 100 percent paid for. “It’s a struggle with the cost of premiums, but it’s important that people are not distracted by how they can take care of their families,” Barbone says.

“We strive to be different and break the conception of what traditional construction is and be better than that,” Barbone says.

Mark Stebbins, chairman and CEO of PROCON, a construction company in Hooksett, is on the same page. He says his team works on culture daily and, he remembers when he took over in 1984, when construction was fraught with constant turnover. Stebbins worked to change that, whittling turnover at PROCON to a meager 3 percent annually.

“We take care of each other and take care of our customers. It’s really simple,” Stebbins says.

“We ask people to come in and work hard but we have to let them go home and be with their family,” Stebbins says.

Last year, to thank the field employees who work outside year round, Stebbins and his management team took field workers and their spouses to Gillette Stadium for a private behind-the-scenes tour that included a motivational speech from a Superbowl champion.

“There is nobody in the company who doesn’t feel those guys don’t deserve special recognition because of the tough conditions they work in,” Stebbins says.

Financials are also regularly updated for the entire company at PROCON. “By doing that, people understand how they contribute,” Stebbins says.

While PROCON has two full-time recruiters, Stebbins says, “We’re not looking for warm bodies. We’re looking for people who fit.” And most successful recruits come from employee referrals.

The range of what is manufactured in NH is wide and what manufacturers are doing to find and retain talent is as varied.

Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack developed a leadership training program that accepts 13 to 16 high potential employees annually, nominated from any team. The program lasts for 10 months and employees spend a week at each of the company’s five sites, says Real Madore, vice president of operations. Elbit Systems also introduced a “Millennial Think Tank” to give its millennial workforce more of a voice in the company. Participants meet monthly at different sites to discuss changes they would like to see, Madore says, “They need their own identity. They’re our future.”

Elbit not only has to hire people to accommodate growth, but also to replace its retirees, Madore notes. Of the 485 employees at the Merrimack plant, including 200 engineers, 194 have been with the company for at least a decade, 105 for 20 years, and 64 for 35 years or more, Madore says. So the company has built stronger ties with area schools, increasing internship opportunities and often hiring those interns.

Elbit also provides employees with opportunities to volunteer in the community and hosts fun events such as an annual Office Olympics with free lunch from food trucks.

It’s programs like that, as well as the array of high-tech products made at the company, that Madore hopes will entice the next generation. “Parents remember what they think is manufacturing and kids do not understand today’s manufacturing,” he says. “We have to change that vision of what manufacturing is.”

David Greer, CEO of Wire Belt Company of America in Londonderry, says to transform his fourth-generation family business, “I developed a plan with my values: family, innovation, integrity, ownership and fun.”

Wire Belt is only the second company in the 20-year history of the Best Companies competition to make the Hall of Fame twice. “I want the company to be a fun place... We try to do at least one fun thing every month,” he says.

Klüber Lubrication in Londonderry considers its core principles among its greatest assets when finding workers. Ralf Kraemer, CEO of Klüber Lubrication, says, “We strive to make sure our principles aren’t just a piece of paper that exists in the abstract.”

Klüber reviews its principles regularly with employees, asking them if the company is living its values with a survey.

Klüber also takes time during hiring. Kraemer say, “This is important because we view our employee relationship as a long-term relationship.”

Novo Nordisk, which develops and manufactures hemophilia and growth disorder treatments in West Lebanon, has 10 essential guiding principles. “The point of all this is to drive sustainable engagement and well being and to be a successful business,” says Peter Gariepy, site vice president for NH. “We talk about it weekly and at our daily production board meetings.”

Employees at Novo Nordisk enjoying some fun. Courtesy photo.

To confirm they are hitting the mark, Novo Nordisk conducts an annual survey and uses the results to begin dialogues. “When you go to work every day, you want to be part of a company you care about,” Gariepy says. “The wellbeing for employees is the wellbeing for your company.”

W.S. Badger, a manufacturer of personal care products, folds sustainable practices and social responsibility into their employees’ daily lives. Badger worked with Healthy Monadnock in Keene to determine a living wage for its employees, which starts at $15 per hour. The company also shuts down at lunch to provide a free, organic lunch for everyone. And they include numerous family-friendly policies from flex hours to daycare and summer camp for employees’ children.

Rebecca Hamilton, vice president of research and development and a family owner of Badger, says, “Money is a fuel and not a goal. We need to make money for us to continue moving forward, but it’s not the end goal of why we’re in business. We have a strong belief that our business should be designed to have a strong impact on our employees and in our community.”

And the culture attracts applicants. “In New Hampshire, a lot of employers are worried about finding a talented workforce. It’s not something we ever see as an issue,” Hamilton says.

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