“We’re building a deep bench,” said Ajax Director of Operations Curt Jasper.
No, Curt wasn’t talking about a company softball team. This busy manufacturing company needs multi-skilled people who can step into pretty much any role on the plant floor as needed and perform well. As leader of Ajax’s talent management effort, Curt has been innovating new ways to build his workforce since he joined Ajax four years ago. He and Administrative Assistant Courtney Mickelson have devoted huge amounts of time and energy towards the people side of the business.
“It’s all about managing talent. We’ve examined every corner of our business looking for ways to improve our career focus,” Curt said. “Every organization has practices they need to get better at, including us. But we wanted to avoid becoming too inwardly-focused.”
The Ajax team is proactively learning how to grow the company’s talent pool by volunteering on local organizations’ boards or discussion panels to understand colleague and employer issues.“ We always look for new avenues to approach our next career objective,” Curt said.
The Company’s #1 Talent Builder – The Skills Matrix
Ajax Plant Manager Brandon Holmes is a perfect example of how development programs can identify and grow talented people quickly. Brandon joined Ajax in 2007 and worked his way up through production, fabrication, logistics, and management roles to become the company’s newest Plant Manager. Brandon is a credentialed Class A Journeyworker whose professional development includes creating, attending, and instructing the M-Powered manufacturing program at Hennepin Technical College and the sheet metal program at Anoka Technical College, both in Minneapolis. Brandon has completed coursework in lean manufacturing and six sigma process improvement, and is a Certified Professional Project Manager (CPPM).
That’s a pretty impressive resume for such a young professional. But Ajax managers believe Brandon’s success story should not be all that unusual. In fact, they believe it’s repeatable using a key weapon in the Ajax workforce arsenal: the Skills Matrix.
The Ajax Skills Matrix is a color-coded grid that shows a composite of production skills needed and mastered by members of the Ajax workforce. This at-a-glance talent management tool, posted prominently in the company break room, inspires workforce members to learn new skills and become the multi-skilled team that boosts production efficiency. Managers can also assess the available skills at any given time and contrast that to the production schedule, enabling them to quickly identify and correct any future gaps.
Benefits To Workforce and Customers Alike
Put yourself in the Ajax customer’s shoes (if you already have, thank you!) and imagine you’ve just handed off a critical project on a tight time line. Wouldn’t you be happy to know the many ways the Skills Matrix improves performance on your project? Here are just a few examples:
- Increased workforce competency and greater personal commitment to your project’s success.
- Greater management understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of people assigned to your project.
- Increased production capacity and efficiency through earlier detection of skills shortages.
- Improved recruitment efficiency through hiring and training people with backgrounds in areas of need.
- Better project planning based on projected availability of skilled people.
- More consistency and stability, keeping the company, and your projects, moving forward.
- Better product quality and reduced production bottlenecks.
- Inspires workforce members to build their talents because the company’s steady growth yields new career opportunities.
It Starts At The Top
The Skills Matrix only works when company management is committed to seeing it through and keeping it embedded in the minds of people at all levels of the company. Vice President of Sales Don Wellman said the Skills Matrix must become part of the Ajax core culture. “It starts with us,” he said. “Management needs to prioritize the Skills Matrix in order to get the most from it.”
Don said once people begin to see the benefits of the Skills Matrix, the cultural embedding gets easier. “The good news is that everyone can see how well it works,” Don said. “That gives the entire Skills Matrix project plenty of momentum to keep it rolling forward.”