Manufacturing success starts with employees 

A podcast with Oshkosh, Mercer, and Workday.

This podcast was recorded before the global pandemic. While the world looks a lot different today, we believe this content remains valuable for helping organizations move forward.

When looking for innovation in human resources, your first thought may not turn to manufacturing. But the industry is undergoing change and businesses and their HR leaders must pivot accordingly.

In this podcast, Tina Seashore, leader of global rewards at Oshkosh Corporation, and Jeff Riccono, customer success leader for US and Canada at Mercer, discus how digitization is impacting the skills and talent needed for the current and future manufacturing workforce, and how this in turn effects employee engagement.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, the transcript is provided below. It has been edited lightly for clarity. 

Greg Thomas: Tina and Jeff, welcome. Please share a little about your background and what you do. We’ll start with you, Tina.

Tina Seashore: I have had the privilege to be in the global rewards function for most of my career, trying to make a difference in the lives of the people that I work with each day. If you’re not familiar with global rewards, it encompasses employee compensation, benefits, HR systems—and all things in between.

I've spent most of my career in the manufacturing world, which includes the last four-and-a-half years that I’ve been at Oshkosh. I have also worked for a large retailer, so I certainly have respect for shift work and people who work around the clock. It’s been fun.

Jeff Riccono: I’m the customer success leader for Mercer, and am also familiar with shift work. After getting an engineering degree, I started in manufacturing, doing a lot of IT support and IT management. Throughout my career, I have also done a lot of program and process reengineering for different industries.

I’ve been with Mercer for about five years now. In my current role, I help our customers successfully improve business processes for their organizations using technology.

Thomas: Well, I’m glad you’re both here. We’re going to discuss the overall changes in the manufacturing industry. Then we’ll talk about employee experience and how to help improve that. Jeff, when you think about digitization and other disruptive forces, how are jobs changing within manufacturing?

Riccono: More and more, employees today want to be able to use technology at work, much like they do in their personal lives. That’s something that companies have to embrace in order to be attractive to the new workforce that’s coming of age. Companies that are intentional about the technologies they use are increasingly ahead of those who meander and just adopt whatever is new.

As one of their partners, Oshkosh has been very intentional about having a vision and setting forth some guiding principles, so it adopts technologies in a way that supports its business objectives.

Thomas: Tina, what was Oshkosh’s vision? What did you want to achieve with technology?

Seashore: When I started with the organization, the experiences that team members had with HR were not the best. People who were just starting with us—and even those who had been with us 40, 50, and even 60 years—said that doing business with HR was complicated. They weren’t sure where to go. They wondered why they had to sign 28 forms and talk to 5 people just to get simple things done. Very quickly, I recognized that we had a great opportunity to improve the work experiences of our people, which is important for recruitment and retention.

Oshkosh Corporation builds the best machines and vehicles out there. Our mission is to build, serve, defend, and protect—to make a difference in people’s lives. You don't have to teach our people about quality. They’re tightening a wrench to make sure that a vehicle going to the Marine Corps is built in a way to help ensure that people are going to come home safely.

But we recognized that our employees were missing out on something special, and we wondered how we could make their experience at work the best it could be. So we set forth a strategic vision and said, “If we could rewrite the story for all 15,000 of our people around the globe, what would we do?” Ultimately, we decided to give them the tools and resources they needed for a frictionless experience. We wanted to be easy to do business with. We wanted to be that employer of choice, regardless of where we were operating. This is noteworthy because we’re not in locations typically categorized as “cool.” We’re often in small communities, and those communities rely heavily on us.

We set forth with our strategic vision and didn’t waver from it. After that, all our other decisions just made sense because we had that guiding principle or vision map, which is to make sure that we put our people at the center of every decision. When we heard discussions that deviated from that vision, we paused and reminded people that our goal is to give our employees a better way of working with HR and getting the information that they need. They deserve that.

Thomas: What’s the composition of the Oshkosh workforce? How many folks are literally on the line, turning those wrenches you talked about? How many folks are sitting at desks?

Seashore: That’s a great question, and it sets the context for many challenges that other manufacturing organizations have as well. Out of 15,000 employees, about 65 percent work on the manufacturing floor, every day of the week. And the rest work in the back office.

We have four market segments. They each make different products, but we’re still an integrated organization. We like to share resources and technology, and that includes making sure that we can transfer talent throughout our organization.

But that diverse composition of people really does impact how we deploy processes of any type or size. We have to think about the needs of the most sophisticated team member as well as those who do not speak English as their first language. So from those perspectives, we need to know what we’re doing to support all of our employees in those moments that matter most to them. Are processes simple? Are tools accessible? And what about our communication plans? The way that we speak—our tone—really needs to be focused on all different types of people, no matter where they are.

Thomas: Jeff, what are your thoughts?

Riccono: To help understand the true nature of employee experiences, we worked with Oshkosh on a four-day global process workshop. They brought in employees from all over the world. We wanted that representation to learn what all employees care about—across all the different lines of business. We walked through every business process to understand everyone’s experiences. All the information we collected provided the insight we needed to create the foundation for the entire Workday implementation.

It was a very well-run workshop. Hats off to the Oshkosh team for dedicating the time and attention needed to make that happen. 

Thomas: Picking up that thread, do you think it’s really important to take the time to look at current processes—including what’s working and what’s not?

Seashore: Yes, there are so many reasons. I’ve had some experience implementing technology in my past. Based on what I’ve learned from successes and failures, I wanted to make sure Oshkosh was well prepared for next steps. I also wanted to surround myself with people who shared the same vision of what a successful implementation could look like.

We had to sell the technology investment because it was large. And many of our leaders in the organization didn’t understand why we would want to invest in HR technology. So we had to drive a change-management campaign that started by describing our current people-technology platform and the experiences that employees had with it. Then we presented the opportunities for Oshkosh to improve those experiences in a way that was agnostic to any tools and best-player solutions.

So even though we already had buy-in from senior leadership for some kind of solution, we needed to make sure that they all understood what the issues were and where we had opportunities to improve. They had to understand the “dirty laundry” resulting from the way things were operating. Taking this approach was critical. When our senior and functional leaders across the organization learned what people were experiencing, they were surprised and knew we could do better.

Thomas: There’s often that difference between how we think things work, and how things actually work.

Seashore: Yes, exactly. That’s why it was important to spend a significant amount of time to understand how things actually worked before we created a strategic vision. Because that insight was needed to build a solid foundation to ask for an investment in technology.

We knew the right technology would do two things. One, we’d be able to completely alter our team-member experience, which was our primary goal. And two, having the right tools would make it possible to transform the HR organization. In some ways, the changes we proposed were threatening to some people. Staying focused on how we could improve the business and become the best HR business partner with specific tools could boost our courage. Technology was our avenue to address our challenges and achieve our goals in a collective way. Without it, we would not have been as successful.

Thomas: How did you establish what changes were needed to deliver services to employees, and how have the changes helped engage employees around the globe?

Seashore: Our vision map had multiple principles attached to it, such as: think globally always. Think simple. Think agile. These principles described what we needed to think about as we worked to improve our team members’ experiences. Every design decision and every application-deployment decision was made in a way to keep team members at the center. By doing so, we could help ensure that we delivered an exceptional experience to everyone, especially during the moments that matter most.

We expanded the languages that people can use when they interact with HR. This includes creating a new department called Global HR Services. These people are our frontline HR professionals who operate within HR but as team members with our employees in different regions. Global HR Services can effectively elevate issues because they provide the correct space between our centers of excellence and our HR business partners.

The Global HR Services team does more than just help people who have a question about their paycheck, or find their performance review form. They have to answer questions about anything under the sun. To make sure our Global HR Services team is supported, we deployed our solution in a way that gives them the information they need to answer questions in a consistent way, in the language that they prefer.

Thomas: It must have been a challenge to figure out how to get people the information that they need, especially since you have folks on the manufacturing floor who probably aren’t sitting in front of a computer. How did you design your service model so it takes into account all the possible avenues for communication, including online and phone?

Seashore: Ensuring clear communication with all employees is critical. However, if you ask someone from any large Fortune 500 organization, they will tell you that the further away you move from the center, the more the message gets lost. To help mitigate this issue, we had to give employees on-demand access to information in the way they are most comfortable. This is why we provided mobile access to our solution on day one. We did not waiver on that. We delivered mobile access to our HR portal as well as a mobile Workday application. We pushed the app to all devices that were Oshkosh owned.

We marketed the heck out of our solution, initiating all different types of campaigns to get people to engage with the tool. We did things like desk drops and we sent mailers to employees’ homes that explained how to get engaged.

We did everything we could to remove any barriers to information access as well. This included partnering with our IT team to support single-sign-on and kiosk implementations. We certainly didn’t get it perfect, but we are learning every day and using that information to make incremental changes.

Solution adoption is increasing. New team members are engaging with the platform because that’s what they learned when they came in the door. Some existing employees have had experiences with this kind of solution elsewhere, so they adopted it right away. It’s how they expect to do business. Then we also have folks who have been here a long time who say, “You’re moving my cheese. Help me get there.” We’re going to continue to work with everybody to make sure they get information in the way that they need so that their experiences improve.

Thomas: That takes us back to something that Jeff said at the beginning of our discussion—that we expect our experience with technology to be the same at work as it is at home. And even if the way we do things—or the cheese—has been in the same place for some time, hopefully people will learn that the new solution—or cheese—is better and tastier now.

Seashore: Yes, that’s the goal.

Riccono: Absolutely. I think one key objective Oshkosh set in its vision was to deliver frictionless information access. Everyone wants to be able to change something in their HR profile—such as a benefits beneficiary—in a way that’s just as easy as ordering something off of Amazon. The people who are entering the workforce today grew up with that kind of frictionless experience, so they expect it.

One of the things that Tina called out is the change-management side of this project and the important steps taken during the workshop. We really took time to understand all stakeholder groups and understand all the ways that they might consume information. This was important to get ready for this transformation.

During the workshop, we also tested our findings. We gave people quick-reference guides and videos, and said, “If you received this information on day one, what would be missing? What’s wrong with this process? Tell us what we can do to improve it. Tell us how we could make your life easier by starting your journey with Workday.”

Thomas: So let’s shift gears and talk about skills gaps in the manufacturing industry overall. Some employees have been with the company for 40, 50, and 60 years. And then you have folks who are just joining. Starting with you, Jeff, what challenges does the manufacturing industry face right now in finding folks with the right kinds of skills—in small towns and elsewhere?

Riccono: Something that impressed me when we first started engaging with Oshkosh and speaking with the chief human resources officer is that Oshkosh has programs to address this talent gap. Tina can talk more about this, but Oshkosh gets the youth interested by going to middle schools and high schools and educating students about Oshkosh and the kinds of jobs that it offers.

Seashore: Yes, our war on talent is the same one facing Workday, our competitors, and the local employers in our communities. When I started at Oshkosh, I didn’t think that we were going to have an issue or a concern with skilled labor but we certainly do, today. We have gaps in manufacturing skills—and on the office side as well, for electricians and for data analysts. Finding technical labor is also a struggle, specifically for painters and welders.

About two years ago, we set on a journey to share all the ideas we could think of to engage people in a technical career because these skills are decreasing. Our changing culture is decreasing interest in these skills.  

Based on the ideas we came up with, we put together an awesome plan to attract talent. Jeff talked about how we’re going to schools, including grade schools, middle schools, high schools, and technical colleges. We’re also reinvesting in our people by sending them off to training to harness and keep skills internally. For example, we help people who are working as assemblers but who want to become welders by putting them through school. Same thing for painters. We also have a Women-in-Welding program, and we just graduated our first class.

The unemployment rate in our communities is under 3 percent, so when we needed to hire more people, we physically travelled to a city with very high unemployment rates for skilled labor, and recruited talent. We have successfully retained most of the people that we’ve moved, even though they relocated from a warm climate to Minnesota.

We’re continuing to try different approaches for increasing our talent pool and leveraging our community partners to address our skills gaps. Ultimately, we need to make sure that the value proposition for Oshkosh employees is known in all regions. We have a compelling purpose and story. We just need to continue to work really hard to get it out there.

Thomas: A lot of employers struggle to sell the business case for investing in the level of employee recruitment and training you just described. Tina, how did Oshkosh realize the long-term value of filling positions by relocating people from other communities or upskilling current employees?

Seashore: It goes back to our culture that puts people at the center of all decision-making. We also have a strong responsibility to our shareholders. We’re a publicly traded company that just celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017.

To stand tall for the next 100 years, we have to be creative in how we create products that connect our leaders and people with customers who include firefighters and war fighters. We’re going to draw on the resiliency, tenacity, and perseverance of our organization to do what it takes to deliver the products our customers need and help our people to become even better when they work for our organization.

Thomas: What advice do you have for HR and business leaders in manufacturing who are on this same journey?

Riccono: It’s critical to start with an intentional vision, especially for manufacturing organizations, who have historically cobbled together systems over many decades. However, to create that vision, you must be able to push existing processes and systems aside and really explore what a better future looks like for your organization.

Oshkosh did this. It started with a vision of its future, underpinned by guiding principles. We could then use our skills to help Oshkosh create a solution that aligns with its vision—in HR transformation and in the application of technology.

Seashore: I agree with Jeff. First and foremost, you need to bring the right stakeholders into a room and spend time putting their words on paper about what things could be like. I know it can feel daunting and overwhelming, but ultimately, as a leader—in HR or any other organization—if you truly believe that your team members or employees are your number one asset like Oshkosh does, it’s worth the time and energy to explore how you can make their work life better. You don’t have to come up with a perfect vision right away. Use your initial vision as a guide to make things better, and adjust it as needed as you get new information.

It’s also important to always encourage your stakeholders to speak up about the opportunities for change—before you move forward with a solution. For example, a year and a half before we actually got the go-ahead to make an investment in technology, I circulated a one-pager to stakeholders that said, “Here’s our opportunity statement. From your perspective, what’s in it for our employees? What’s in it for our organization? What’s in it for our leaders?”

This opportunity statement was more than just saying we’d like employees to be able to change their address online by themselves. That’s certainly awesome. We know that. Our opportunity statement was much broader, and it clearly detailed processes that would make this organization better. Every opportunity I had to share that one-pager, I did—with our leadership team, our finance group, our IT team, and HR. That helped cascade our messages across the organization. So when we asked for the technology we needed to support our proposed solution, we had laid the groundwork. Most stakeholders agreed, “Why wouldn’t we do this?”

At that point, we were still very much technology agnostic. But because we had a clear vision, as we met with potential partners, our internal stakeholders were clear and in alignment about our needs and what we wanted to achieve. So we just had to wrap our arms around who would help us bring our vision to life.

So that’s my best advice. It takes courage and time to work with stakeholders on a vision, but the effort is so worth it. By working together, you can identify and articulate the changes that can really help your organization.

Thomas: I want to thank our guests, Tina Seashore from Oshkosh Corporation and Jeff Riccono from Mercer.

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