Catching and Keeping Talent Requires Differentiation

If most companies offer competitive benefits packages and support for further job-related education, then finding, hiring and keeping top-notch talent means a company must differentiate itself as a place where professionals desire to be.

For college graduates, automation vendor Opto 22 (www.opto22.com), of Temecula, Calif., targets engineering departments. “We’re looking for real self-starters,” states Chief Executive Officer and President Mark Engman. He believes his company’s flat management structure and company environment attract good staff. “When interviewing, the kids understand that it’s a fun place to work, [that] they should enjoy it.” The non-traditional interviewing process also identifies talent that’s likely to fit. “We’ll have the engineers interview them. If a new person doesn’t mesh with the group, if the group‘s not excited, then the candidate won’t be hired,” Engman remarks.

For new professionals, automation-and-controls-vendor Invensys Process Systems (IPS, www.ips.invensys.com), of Plano, Texas, recruits mostly in collegiate engineering departments. “We are looking for people with the potential to grow and lead within the company,” comments Valerie Blasco, vice president of global recruitment, who is based in Cergy, France.

The process and means to find experienced staff varies. At Opto 22, where “everyone has a technical background,” Engman says those staff come “by word of mouth, and we also seek them.” Invensys uses networks, employee referrals, advertising and recruitment agencies. “Personal networking within professional organizations and communities is among the most effective ways,” Blasco comments.

Once new hires from college come aboard, what do these companies do to retain them? “We take great strides to ensure that people coming into the company understand and agree with corporate values . . . embodied in the terms: innovation, agility, integrity, meritocracy and courage,” Blasco explains. “We offer new employees an opportunity to develop their potential and career interests.” She notes that the company is “organized to enable people to prove themselves—and make an impact—quickly.”

Invensys offers two-year rotational programs in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia to its recently hired college grads. This “enables them to gain knowledge and experience with the major business units of Invensys Process Systems,” says Blasco. “Participants might receive formal training and assignments in enterprise process control, plant automation, critical safety systems, plant simulation and enterprise asset management.”

Typically, participants in that Invensys program rotate through six-month assignments, under close supervision and with an assigned mentor for each rotation. “After two years, following successful completion of the rotation, they are placed in a full-time position, based on where their supervisors, mentors and they feel they will make the greatest impact,” Blasco explains.

At Engman’s company, the self-starting environment and its liberty—he also supports telecommuting, for example—foster employee retention. “The kids are given freedom—the ability to do real engineering,” he comments. “We find that when you take young, really bright kids and set them loose, they can adapt to the culture and be productive very quickly.”

But while his company also seeks seasoned professionals, Engman notes they might experience culture shock because “typically, they bring baggage. [But] we’re not the kind of company that has scheduled meetings, that coddles people,” he reveals. “You have the freedom to get the job done and the freedom to fail.”

Up-front expectations guide hiring, too. “If we hire someone, our expectation is that they’ll be here for a number of years,” Engman remarks. The average tenure for his company’s engineers is approximately 10 years, though some staff have been with the company since its founding in the mid-1970s.

Ultimately, though, what may determine whether or not good talent remains there or anywhere else? Engman believes his company’s formula works. “Trust your employees and give them the opportunity to succeed.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an
Automation World Contributing Editor.
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