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4 Westchester Companies Invest in Internal Workforce Development

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Candela Systems Corporation prioritizes training for its electrical workers to ensure safety on the job.
Photo courtesy of Candela Systems Corporation

Local businesses reveal how internal training programs benefit employers and staff by increasing knowledge and retention.

Offering internal training is a win-win for both employers and employees. For an employer, it can cut down on hiring costs, ensure that your staff remains abreast of changes within your industry and increase employee retention. Employees benefit by advancing their own career path, learning new skills and perhaps forming new relationships with their colleagues.

Here, four local companies share how they solved their hiring problems by investing in internal workforce development.

The Business of Your Business

On-The-Job Training

White Plains-based The Business of Your Business offers accounting and bookkeeping services for small businesses, nonprofits, and religious institutions. CEO Wiley C. Harrison notes that many of his bookkeepers have no prior experience in the field and several have switched from retail or food-service positions. When he recruits for the position, he looks for candidates with a positive attitude, a comfort level with computers and math, but most importantly a willingness to learn and be trained on the job by his accountants. Each client has a unique set of circumstances that the bookkeepers must familiarize themselves with. For example, Harrison notes that a church or nonprofit will categorize transactions differently than a small business such as a restaurant.

Harrison’s firm participates in On-the-Job Training (OJT), an initiative developed by the Westchester-Putnam Career Center Network (also known as One Stop). With OJT provided by his accountants to his bookkeepers, Harrison’s firm is reimbursed up to 50 percent of the new employee’s weekly wage to compensate for the cost of the time and additional supervision related to the training. For the bookkeeping position, OJT usually lasts six months.

Companies in different sectors within the county are eligible to apply for the program and Harrison believes the One Stop OJT is a win-win situation for him and his employees. The reimbursement helps offset the cost of spending on external training and helps employees build new skills and rapport with their co-workers.

Candela Systems Corporation

On-The-Job Training

Education is one of the core values at Hawthorne-based Candela Systems Corporation, an electrical contractor that prides itself on providing the highest quality energy-efficient lighting technology to its customers. In an ever-evolving industry, education is crucial for keeping employees and their job sites safe. “We have education as one of our five core values because we are always striving to help better each individual and make them more knowledgeable, which makes our company stronger and safer as a whole,” notes Marissa Grande, a human resources assistant at the company. Grande notes that electricians need many years in training and ongoing education to maintain their licenses.

For training purposes, some of the industry certifications are mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and others by the interNational Association of Lighting Management Companies (NALMCO). But Candela employees receive training above and beyond what the industry requires. For example, the company had several new employees come on board for a specific job, and before they started, one of Candela’s experienced technicians walked everyone through the different aspects of lighting retrofit.

Employees are required to pay for online courses themselves, but Candela provides discount codes and cost-sharing options if tuition is a financial hardship for the employee. Candela Systems reimburses its employees after they pass the exam.

Candela’s required educational track is designed to create highly educated, skilled, and safe professionals. Employees are compensated when they receive advanced certifications — whether through a raise or by being assigned to a specific high-profile project, which may have a higher pay rate. “As a family, we want everyone to go home every night. Having a healthy understanding and respect for the work being performed ensures that,” notes Grande.

Graduates of Stew Leonard’s Leadership Bootcamp in 2019. Photo courtesy of Stew Leonard's

Graduates of Stew Leonard’s Leadership Bootcamp in 2019. Photo courtesy of Stew Leonard’s

Stew Leonard’s

Leadership Bootcamp

Graduates from Stew Leonard’s decade-old Leadership Bootcamp “are high-performing individuals within the company who show great potential,” notes Ellen Story, vice president of human resources. As part of the six-to nine-month program, employees who are at the managerial level or higher are mentored by senior leadership across the company’s seven stores and in different sectors of the organization, such as marketing or finance.

A hallmark of the program is the group project, where the program participants analyze a problem together and provide recommendations. For example, one year, participants studied whether or not having a large coffee roaster on-site like at the Yonkers store increased coffee sales. Their research validated the investment in purchasing smaller coffee roasters for additional stores that utilized less energy and space, but still provided customers with the “show and sell” experience leading to increased coffee sales overall.

A graduate of Stew Leonard’s Leadership Bootcamp in 2020. Photo courtesy of Stew Leonard's

A graduate of Stew Leonard’s Leadership Bootcamp in 2020. Photo courtesy of Stew Leonard’s

The company has grown its footprint rapidly, with three new stores in the past five years, and ranks on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list. Interest in the bootcamp program remains high, with 38 applications for a coveted five spots in the next class.

Not only is Stew Leonard’s providing training through the leadership bootcamp, but the company also launched a management training program about five years ago for both in-house talent and external candidates who are more entry level. The 12-to 18-month program serves as a new talent pipeline to help advance candidates to the manager level quickly when those opportunities arise. Many of the management trainee graduates have moved on to the leadership bootcamp.

Both programs are widely sought after by employees. Out of 45 bootcamp graduates in the past decade, 24 have been promoted and nine have been promoted twice. With the COVID crisis, the leadership bootcamp pivoted to Zoom group meetings and presentations, which was a benefit for employees since they no longer had to travel for in-person meetings. The program this year will also conduct Zoom panel interviews to choose the lucky few who become bootcamp participants.

White Plains Hospital launched the Earn While You Learn program to encourage employees to train as OR scrub techs. Photo courtesy of White Plains Hospital

White Plains Hospital launched the Earn While You Learn program to encourage employees to train as OR scrub techs. Photo courtesy of White Plains Hospital

White Plains Hospital

Earn While You Learn Credential Program

While healthcare is a booming industry in the Hudson Valley, some hospital jobs are harder to fill than others. At White Plains Hospital (WPH), the human resources team had trouble filling the position of operating room (OR) scrub tech. This position helps the surgical team prepare for operating procedures with duties such as laying out sterilized surgical instruments or assisting with suturing. The position does require specialized technical training, but not necessarily a four-year college degree. Diane Woolley, chief human resources officer at WPH, explained that the pool of applicants for this position was low as employees were either obtaining their four-year degrees and looking for different jobs or they were not seeking additional education beyond a high school diploma.

In an effort to address this recruitment challenge and help employee career advancement, WPH created a program called Earn While You Learn. Full-time employees at the hospital were eligible to apply for the two-year program, where they could go to class to obtain their OR scrub tech certification during the day at local accredited colleges but also got paid their hourly rate plus benefits while working their remaining hours in the week at the hospital. This proved to be an attractive incentive to employees who otherwise would not be able to go to school due to a lack of resources or due to childcare issues. WPH paid full tuition for the classes and, upon obtaining their certification, the employees were committed to working as an OR scrub tech at WPH for a minimum of four years. On average each semester, the employees worked 20 hours at the hospital, with the remaining 20 hours spent in the classroom. The program proved so successful that WPH expanded it to other technical positions such as medical technologist and respiratory therapist.