Husco Cracks the Employee-Retention Code

For Husco—a family-owned manufacturer of hydraulic and electro-mechanical control systems—building a strong, cohesive culture is the key to retaining talent.

The Waukesha, Wisconsin, company is among the many manufacturers that find retention to be a top business challenge, as the NAM’s quarterly Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey shows. So how do they create this cohesion?

It all starts at the top: Angela Stemo, vice president of global human capital at Husco, says the company has always prioritized trust and communication between employees and their managers.

  • “Our retention has grown and strengthened because of the emphasis we place on our leaders having strong relationships with their employees—get to know who they are, find out what their interests are,” said Stemo.
  • The company also lays the groundwork for strong bonds between coworkers, which often flourish outside of work as well. “Once they feel connected to people within the organization, they’re going to want to stay,” explained Stemo. “They’ve built friendships, they’ve built connections, and they feel really tied to the organizational culture.”

How they do it: Husco conducts employee engagement surveys once a year and holds occasional in-person focus group discussions to get feedback from employees.

  • “As our organization becomes more diverse, we are offering surveys in more languages,” said Stemo. “We have a large Afghan population on our shop floor as well as many Burmese workers, so we’ve had our surveys translated into various languages for all employees to participate.”
  • “For us, we really try to listen to what people say and what their suggestions are,” said Stemo. “If it’s something feasible and we can implement it, we try to figure out how to do so.”

Career development and advancement: Stemo noted that workers have consistently mentioned career development and advancement in the focus groups and surveys. The company has responded by expanding its offerings:

  • Husco offers its workers 100% tuition reimbursement—whether for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree—and fully funded internal and external training.
  • The company also offers a “scholars program” that helps recent high school graduates complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering while working at Husco. Scholars receive full-time pay and benefits along with 100% tuition support.
  • “Husco emphasizes and truly supports lifelong, continuous learning,” said Stemo.

Internal programs: Within the company, Husco offers career development programs that feature rotations through different departments, such as quality, manufacturing and design. These rotations prepare workers for leadership positions, usually in engineering or manufacturing, said Stemo.

  • Husco provides the opportunity for employees to pursue external certifications in Six Sigma (green, yellow or black) and project management, as well as attend classes in negotiation, presentation and communication through a third party or university/college. If an employee has the desire and completes the appropriate request forms, the company approves it, said Stemo.

Patent awards: Husco also provides a monetary reward for ideas that contribute to new products, processes or anything else that might be patented.

  • “There is a staff engineer within each division who partners with various legal teams to apply for a patent award,” explained Stemo. “We recognize the award with a plaque and a patent award bonus.”

Other perks and support: Husco offers employees the flexibility of working one day a week from home and provides free health risk assessments, flu shots and on-site medical consulting. Through a corporate membership, the company also provides employees with day passes to visit the local zoo or museum for free.

Philanthropy: Philanthropy is central to Husco’s culture, and the company encourages its employees to get involved and help their communities. Husco supports employees’ philanthropic efforts through local outreach programs and volunteer opportunities.

  • Husco donates 10% of its profits to charitable organizations, putting a special emphasis on those that support K-12 education. The company also donates to colleges and universities, while providing scholarships for exceptional local students and the children of Husco employees.
  • “We match dollar to dollar employee donations to hundreds of different organizations,” noted Stemo. “Our philanthropic efforts are a big part of our culture and what makes employees ‘sticky.’”

The last word: Stemo shared some advice for companies struggling with workforce retention: there’s no substitute for good leaders.

  • “People leave bosses,” she said. “It may not be the final reason why someone leaves a company, but a lot of times, that’s the beginning of why someone starts looking for a job elsewhere or takes that recruiter call.”

Go deeper: The Manufacturing Institute—the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate—has many resources to help employers retain and develop their teams.

  • Start with this study on boosting retention and employee engagement, and register for an upcoming webinar on company culture.
  • Interested in labor data and key workforce insights? Sign up for the MI’s new monthly publication, Workforce in Focus.
  • For more on the latest trends and best practices in workforce development, sign up for the MI’s Workforce Summit on Oct. 16–18 in Atlanta. Click here for more information and to register.
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