Industryweek 10090 Dowco Marine 1

New Workforce Culture Emerges Spurred by Technology Training

Jan. 7, 2016
Teaching software systems to their employees, Dowco created a culture that is more flexible and responsive to employees' needs. 

Can teaching employees a new software system be a tool to improve workforce culture?

The answer is "yes," according to Brad Nycz, human resources director at Dowco. The company manufactures cut and sew products for the marine and powersports markets and supplies OEM products to Harley-Davidson, Indian, Victory, Polaris, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Zero.

When Nycz joined Dowco he wanted to bring in Kronos’ Workforce Ready software as he had used it successfully at his previous company. He saw the need to integrate information for the 200 employees located across the company’s four facilities.

The question was how to help the workforce adapt to the technology. The first step was to assure employees that it was an easy process, so he created a two-page primer that was posted throughout various locations across the plants. “The goal was to create a level of confidence for employees who were tasked with learning a new system,” explains Nycz.

The next step, which is very unusual, was to have the software live before everyone was even trained on the system. The result was that employees started to ask questions about the program. While this might seem like a small matter, in fact it changes the learning process. Instead of impersonal training for a complex system, employees took individual responsibility for learning. An added benefit for the employee is that learning the Kronos system makes the employees, many of whom had no technical experience, more competitive in the workforce.

“The main message to our workforce is that we trust you,” says Nycz. “We had an open system where employees could experiment and find the best way for them to use the system.” For example a number of employees are on flexible work schedules that allow them to work at home. They needed to learn how to use the system to sign up for jobs and create schedules.

Nycz wanted to move this flexibility in schedules a step further. As the job market in the area is very competitive and his workforce is quite diverse, he wanted to prove to employees that the company truly is flexible. When he suggested workers take a Friday off they were hesitant. No one quite believed that schedule would work, so he asked some employees who were well-respected at the plant to be the example and take these days off. This did the trick and now the workforce is used a very advanced level of flexibility in their work schedules.

As this management style created a more co-operative culture, Nycz looked into other ways to support this new system, especially from the perspective of talent attraction and retention. The company competes in smaller markets and doesn’t have access to large pools of talent. When some of his 70-year-old workers didn’t want to retire, he asked them to become trainers instead. The on-site training allowed him to bring on board young workers who didn’t have the skills the company needed. Understanding the need of younger workers to have a formal career path, he is working on providing that as well.

Awareness of employees’ needs is a core value for Nycz. In fact everyone in his department is required to spend two weeks on the manufacturing floor so they understand the daily lives of the employees. By doing this, they become champions of the employees and only create policies that fit well within the employees' workflow.

And Nycz likes to keep a daily pulse on how his workforce feels. He has installed two buttons at the door; a green one and a red one. “We ask a simple question each day. Did you have a good day? Did you have a productive day?” explains Nycz. “It’s a quick way to know exactly where the workforce is and it’s pretty accurate.”

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