Sometimes building a better workforce means investing more in the one you have.
That’s been the mindset at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. since it opened in 1983. The company helps its employees further their education in business and manufacturing, reimbursing 100% of tuition costs if a grade of C or higher is achieved, says Krisi Schell, executive vice president of human resources for SRC.
“We are very focused on continuing to invest in our people and invest in their education and skill development,” she says, noting roughly 85% of the multistate company’s 1,900 employees work at its Springfield and Monett plants.
While the company’s tuition reimbursement has been active for 38 years, it’s only been tracked since 2011, Schell says. In the past decade, the company has reimbursed tuition for 676 employees.
SRC also has collaborated since 2008 with Ozarks Technical Community College on a three-year customized college credit program, in which graduates earn an associate of applied science degree in manufacturing technology. Schell says 15 SRC employees currently are enrolled in the program, for which the company covers books and tuition. It’s an investment of roughly $12,000 per student over three years, totaling $60,000 this year, she says, adding 36 have graduated from the customized program since 2012.
Schell says the program mixes general education courses and those specific to the manufacturing processes. Skills taught include industrial safety, personal computer applications and public speaking, as well as technical courses, such as industrial motors and controls.
“It’s a great balance too because they’re going into school, usually right after their shift,” she says of the SRC classmates. “They can help each other. A lot of times, we’ll see study groups form whenever there’s a need.”
SRC’s longstanding educational investment for its employees addresses workforce retention and the need to have a skilled workforce, company officials say. The importance of both issues also ranks highly for business leaders in Springfield Business Journal’s 2021 Economic Growth Survey.
Talent acquisition and retention ranked second among the top five most important issues for businesses in the next five years, according to the survey conducted in April by H2R Market Research. A skilled workforce finished at No. 3. Only attracting new customers for the business ranked higher.
It’s on a much smaller scale than SRC’s nearly 2,000 employees, but workforce investment also is paying dividends at Tie & Timber Beer Co. LLC. Co-owner Curtis Marshall says his 3-year-old brewery in the Rountree neighborhood has avoided employee retention issues of which he’s heard others struggle within the bar industry. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual employee turnover rate in the food service industry was high, reaching 75% in 2018, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
“We’ve been very fortunate. Especially being in the service industry, we’ve had very little turnover,” he says, noting nine of Tie & Timber’s 11 employees have worked at the brewery for over a year. “The best way we can make sure our employees are taken care of is to reinvest in Tie & Timber to give them the opportunity to make more cash.”
He says employees, dubbed “beertenders,” start out at $6 per hour and average $18-$20 an hour in tips. Since last year, when Marshall and co-owner Jennifer Leonard added an outdoor beer garden – a roughly $120,000 investment – he says the average price per ticket increased to $17 from $15. That means more tips for staff, he says.
“Overall, was it a good return on investment? No doubt about it,” Marshall says of the beer garden. “That was able to bring in a lot more people. It made Tie & Timber a destination place rather than just a Rountree place.”
While Tie & Timber looks to retain its employees, Victory Mission & Ministry wants to build vocational skills for those looking to join or reenter the workforce. Through its national program Jobs for Life, the nonprofit helps the unemployed and underemployed build job readiness skills and find work. John Pace, Victory Mission’s director of outreach and workforce development, says around 150 have graduated from the nonprofit’s course over its four-year history. The two-month program is held twice a week and covers fundamental biblical principles and practical aspects of getting a job, such as resume building, vocational planning and interviewing skills.
“We have some get hired at the mock interviews,” Pace says of the program’s final session, noting SMC Packaging Group is among those hiring graduates. “We have an employment rate of about 90% for those who are eligible once they graduate.”
Eight graduated from the program last month, Pace says, adding several sessions are held annually. Jobs for Life is part of the nonprofit’s restoration program, which is a 12-18 month residential rehabilitation initiative to develop lives of men and women through spiritual, personal, vocational, relational and financial areas.
“If we have 30 graduates a year, we’ve done really, really well,” he says of Jobs for Life. “To see how far they have come in those eight weeks, that’s worth it all.”
Pace says Jobs for Life is meeting the nonprofit’s graduate goals.
“Would we like to have more experience it? Yes. But you can’t do for people what they won’t do for themselves,” he says. “When they’re ready, we’re ready to definitely give them anything we can to put it in their hands so they can be successful.”
SRC’s Schell says she also wants to see more of its employees take advantage of the company’s educational assistance. That includes degree completion bonuses, which are tiered based on degree types, ranging $500-$1,000.
The company’s willingness to invest in its employees’ education is mutually beneficial, Schell says, noting promoting from within is part of the company culture. It also strengthens talent retention and attraction, she says, as SRC looks to fill roughly 100 job openings across its three-state footprint.
“We’re a business of businesspeople and we want to be sure we’re giving access to increase their knowledge for themselves and to fulfill their own personal academic goals and career goals,” Schell says. “We know that makes our company stronger.”
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