Hendricks County Economic Development Partnership
Danville, Indiana

Phone (317) 745-2400  |  Email brian@hcedp.org

Workforce Development Hits a Home Run with Saint-Gobain Abrasives North American DC

Workforce Development Hits a Home Run with Saint-Gobain Abrasives North American DC

With unemployment hovering around 3%,  Saint-Gobain Abrasives finds one answer to hiring and retaining great employees.

When I entered this job with the HCEDP back in March of 2016 one of the first things I worked on was strengthening a program called Hendricks is Hiring. Updating this project included improvements to HendricksJobs.com, immersing myself in our local HR Square Table Group, and formulating a plan to more directly impact individual employers in Hendricks County. I sat down with Brandy Perrill, Executive Director for the Hendricks College Network (HCN), and we talked for hours about creative ideas and ways to make an impact. What we came up with was lovingly nicknamed “The Retention Pond Project” (RPP because in our world everything gets an acronym).

The goal of the project was to do a hands-on evaluation of local businesses and find the biggest pain-points for hiring and retaining employees. We would assess those points and develop a custom plan for them to follow. The first company that we reached out to was Saint-Gobain Abrasives in Plainfield. Curtis Malone, the HR Manager for Saint-Gobain Abrasives North American distribution center, had expressed a great amount of interest in our program, and had an obvious passion for impacting his people. Curtis came from nearly a decade in banking, more than 3 years in the technology world, and began working in supply chain for Saint-Gobain Abrasives when he moved back to Indiana from California. As he took on the role of HR Manager for Saint-Gobain, he made one thing clear. His goal was to deliver the right HR solution.

We jumped in head on with meetings to discuss and break down the opportunities for change. Curtis worked diligently to collect data on how his employees were engaging and where there was a lack of connectivity between leadership and entry level employees. What Curtis discovered was not only eye-opening for his organization, but it gave a detailed look at the correlation between his employees’ trust level and their dedication to the company and its leadership.

For Curtis and his team, 2017 was devoted to identifying opportunities and goals for addressing these concerns. When Curtis received word that Saint-Gobain would be granted $25,000 through Governor Holcomb’s Next Level Employer Training Grant funds, we were beyond thrilled for him.

I chatted with Curtis to get his thoughts on the process from start to finish, and I would like to share his words with you. In a time when workforce development efforts seem like an uphill battle, when you feel like finding dollars to help make an impact is impossible, know that it is not. There are teams of people out there to assist you, and there is success at the end of hard work. Here are Curtis’s words to prove that:


L: I know you moved to Indiana from California. Tell me a little bit about your career prior to working at Saint-Gobain Abrasives.

C: Working in the banking and tech industries gave me an alternative perspective on how to approach HR on the supply chain side of business. I’ve worked with business partners to help them translate problems or issues they described as “touchy feely” by using data to support their comments/assumptions. Plainly put, we used cold hard facts to determine where we would spend our time. When I came to our site and started working to improve the hiring and retention process my goal was to prove that HR could improve retention and fill open positions. Retention and hiring are core responsibilities of HR regardless of the industry so this made it easy to leverage my experience across industries and using real data from our site helped tell the story about why this is an important problem to solve. In this case we were trying to solve two different connected issues – How to attract & hire the right people for our culture and retain our employees. We started with our turnover, employee engagement and round table data to identify trends. This helped the management team see that there was a methodology in approaching these issues and a clear measurement that we could use to determine success or areas of improvement.

L: That’s a really unique way of looking at that process. I like the idea of being able to take methodologies and use them to improve something that people see as lacking “tangibles”. So, when was it that you first started to realize you had a passion for improving the engagement level of your employees?

C: I’m a problem solver by nature. So, when I heard what people were saying, saw the data and was able to link those to our business objectives for improvement, I started identifying the obstacles that were out there. I wanted to know what the ingredients were to have employees choose Saint-Gobain Abrasives and to stay. I was able to see the correlation between our interview process and selecting candidates, trust issues our employees were having, and communication styles between all levels. It was pretty clear that the problem wasn’t a lack of willingness to work hard to fix the issues, it was picking an area to improve and working on it.

L: What was the biggest shift you saw when you started to move through the process of building your plan of action?

C: I had started trying to identify the problem before we started working with you and HCN, but having your teams come into the picture started the momentum that really got things moving. Shortly after we first talked, I got the results back from our survey, that was a big game changer. Being able to show hard data to our team and point to those correlations was a big deal. We started to notice that what we were working on wasn’t going to be a quick, or even “one year” fix. Then there is always a budget and time constraint with investing in initiatives that may have a longer term impact. In the end, we made the investment. We decided to spend the time and seek additional funds to provide training.

L: To go back to your point about the data, you took a lot of time to quantify the input of those workers at Saint-Gobain. Explain a little bit about that process, how it worked, and how you think it impacted you moving forward.

C: I knew just walking in with a desire to get out of the hole wasn’t going to get us out. A plan without action wasn’t going to do it. So, having the data was the plan, but moving forward with what that data meant was the action. What we understood through that data was that we needed action for our leadership that was long term. We started changing relationships in and out of Saint-Gobain and that directly impacted our success and ultimately led to us find funding. Jeff Pipkin (HCEDP Executive Director) pointed me towards a workforce board where they talked about the Next Level funds, you connected me with Ivy Tech who talked me through some of it, and I did the leg work to push for those funds to implement my plans. All of the Next Level goals directly correlated with our survey feedback and what we needed to fix. It was actually very easy.

L: I’m sorry. Did you just say getting grant money and funding was easy?! Can you talk about that more?

C: Working with Sherrill Morton (Regional Manager- Business Services for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development) was amazing. She was awesome! She was available whenever I needed her, and answered my questions. I can’t even tell you how easy she made it. Honestly the money was just icing on the cake at that point. The state has made it possible for companies to have a funding source to invest in hiring more employees and providing the necessary training.

L: Personally, as our community works towards some of our other workforce initiatives, this is the best news ever. What would your advice be to some of those people who are really struggling to hire and retain employees? Especially those in the transportation/logistics/distribution/warehouse industry?

C: Three things. One, be curious. Don’t be linear! You have to be creative and persistent with these issues. Even if you have a skill set that you think makes you better or smarter about the issue, your ultimate goal is to help your people. So, ask questions, get out on the floor and get to know your people and the real problem. Two, get ready to do the work. Don’t just identify and talk about the problem, fix it. Don’t say that certain things aren’t measurable. Find a way to measure them, and then go back to your methodology and find a solution. It’s there. Just try things. Three, once you’ve started the work, don’t give up. If you just talk about the problem and never finish the work to fix it, the problem will only get bigger and even harder to solve. Find people to support you and get started.

L: Now that you have the funding and you know the level of work ahead of you, where do you see things progressing for your industry?

C: The tight labor market is going to continue to force us to invest in technology and to be more efficient with the people we have. We can’t shy away from technology and process improvement. Our industry will continue to embrace technology, improve productivity, and require employees who are capable of doing physical work along with operating technology. I also believe there will be a significant need for individuals who can service the technology (automation equipment, software, etc.). Now is definitely the time for those interested individuals to acquire these skills.

L: Some of my most favorite topics of discussion revolve around that technology, so that’s an exciting viewpoint for me to hear. In the end, what are you most eager about now that Saint-Gobain Abrasives has gotten this funding?

C: Using the NextLevel money to train the workers and retain them. We’re working on new plans to attract and retain the right employees, we are engaging our employees to help us improve work processes, upgrading some of our “comfort areas” here in the warehouse, and providing opportunities for employees to share their suggestions – we actually do respond to each one and take action when possible. One request from our employees was to be recognized for good performance and to be thanked. We have implemented a new “WOW” program where employees and management can recognize one another and the points can accumulate for employees to purchase items from a catalog. We also provide “Vending Bucks” for employees to purchase food and beverages out of our vending machines. The point is that the Engagement Survey provided us with data that said our employees want to be recognized. The round-tables provided us with examples of rewards and recognition options. We then implemented solutions that allow everyone to participate. These types of improvements get me excited every day to work at Saint-Gobain Abrasives.