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October 2019
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TD Magazine

Tapping the Power of Diversity

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Tapping the Power of Diversity

Rosendin: 2019 BEST Award Winner, #1

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Hiring and retaining a diverse workforce is one business challenge—training employees to embrace diversity is another.

Any company that celebrates its 100th year with unprecedented business success can point to valuable lessons learned en route. For Rosendin, those lessons underscore the critical link between workforce diversity and performance.

That's because when companies serve within highly competitive fields that require them to battle for new business and perform capably, they discover the value of a top-tier talent development department in meeting both goals. And that's the case with the international provider of electrical contracting services, an employee-owned enterprise Moses Rosendin originally launched in 1919 with a focus on serving customers in a California agricultural community. Today, the company has offices throughout the United States.

It operates in a segment that has numerous challenges. Between 2014 and 2016, nearly 30 percent of electrical contractors folded from competition and other pressures. Rosendin copes with a severe labor shortage resulting from skilled worker and executive retirements. It also faces challenges to attract and retain a younger, more diverse demographic.

Yet it continues to win both battles and expand rapidly, thanks in large part to its talent development department, known internally as the Department of Excellence. The 18-person unit resides within operations, where it reports directly to CEO Tom Sorley. Along with training, its duties include quality and lean construction activities. Its director is 28-year company veteran Lisa Vere, who was Rosendin's quality manager when tapped for the job in 2000.

The organizational structure "allows us to link our training with strategic goals more easily, such as increasing operational efficiency and productivity," Vere says. Its biggest champion is Sorley, who has never cut a dime from the unit's budget, even during construction's leanest years.

Grooming interns for employment

Vere's unit partners with the HR department in supporting the goal of aggressively recruiting high school students and graduates with summer internships and job fairs. This comes with an enticing message for students and their parents: A college degree is not the only route to success in life. A career as a certified electrician offers an appealing lifestyle and strong earnings potential.

This is not your everyday internship program. Participants are immersed in multiple experiences with personalized plans that showcase a variety of rewarding assignments. Subject matter experts coach and mentor participants in their project roles. Interns even visit the company's San Jose, California, headquarters for a solid week of introduction. Skills matrices for all interns enable them to exit with transcripts of their learning experiences.

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"We place a high priority on ensuring that the training they receive results in well-rounded internships that doesn't neglect any areas—especially for those who have returned from the previous year," Vere explains.

Rosendin employed 92 interns in 2018 from 46 different schools throughout the United States. It is pleased with the program's results. Satisfaction ratings from the program improved from 3.17 out of 4 in 2017 to an overall score of 3.84 out of 4 in 2018. Of eligible interns, 53 percent received offers for employment, and all of them were still employed in mid-2019.

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Embracing diversity

There is a common overriding theme at Rosendin in the recruiting and onboarding of all new employees, one that touches every aspect of its business: an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. It is a cornerstone of Lean operational excellence, to which Rosendin adheres, and the company emphasizes D&I in its strategic plan that seeks to "attract, develop, and retain the best and brightest in the industry."

D&I also is a goal that motivated Rosendin to instill at every level a new culture of respect for others. While that is a common aim of businesses, it is especially meaningful in a contracting sector that operates within an ingrained team-based performance culture that at times can be adversarial.

Add to that the company's critical need to bridge cultures and generations, and it's easy to appreciate its aggressive approach to gender, ethnic, and generational diversity.

In 2018, it introduced an assessment program that identifies participants' top strengths. Rosendin describes the sessions as a "personal discovery and team working event," which is followed by targeted training to improve understanding about those strengths and how they can affect team dynamics.

The program's intent is to demonstrate that all new hires enter with specific strengths that can contribute to a stronger and more diversified whole. Measurement data confirm that goal. Vere says that, six months after program completion, all operational teams have shown improvement in their pre-assessment scores regarding psychological safety, belonging, and feeling like what they do matters.

Employees throughout the company have taken the assessment, including every summer intern. Other participants include internship program mentors (who also undergo generational training) and anyone in a leadership role.

The assessments and follow-up training have helped to improve understanding throughout the company of how others think and behave, Vere notes. She says the program ties directly to the company's core values about caring, sharing, and listening. "It has helped us point out that the more diverse we are as a company, the better we all will be," she states.

Rosendin's performance management scheme previously evaluated every employee on the same 10 generic criteria, such as accountability and punctuality. Now goals revolve around employees' personal top five strengths.

In 2017, 73 percent of employees were satisfied with the culture. Implementation of the strengths program has enhanced company culture, resulting in an overall employee satisfaction increase to 86 percent in 2018.

View the entire list of 2019 BEST Award winners.

PH
About the Author

Paul Harris is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Virginia.

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