For Jason Schuetz, Husco’s vice president of global operations and advanced manufacturing, what started out as meeting a business need at his company has turned into something profoundly more fulfilling.
How it all started: The Waukesha, Wisconsin–based company, which specializes in hydraulic and electromechanical control systems, had open positions that needed to be filled—a challenge that many manufacturers face daily.
- “We were struggling for a long time to fill the positions that we had open. And we knew that if we continued to think in conventional ways, we would get conventional output and that was not much,” said Schuetz.
- “We were short a number of direct hire positions, similar to a lot of places in the area,” added Husco Director of Operations Mark Dreikosen. “We were looking for creative solutions to fill our staffing needs.”
An opportunity knocks: After months of minimal results in the hiring search, an opportunity was brought to Husco through Lutheran Social Services to help provide jobs for Afghan refugees who fled from the Taliban and relocated in Waukesha.
- After many internal conversations and external meetings with Lutheran Social Services and Manpower International, a global workforce solutions company, Husco moved forward in March.
- The result? Over the past several months, Husco has hired and welcomed 33 Afghan refugees.
- “It was needs based, really, for Husco,” said Dreikosen. “Fortunately for us, it wasn’t the first time we’ve done something like this. We’ve helped support groups who have emigrated from Myanmar, formerly Burma, under similar context where there’s political unrest.”
Adapting to change: Schuetz said that 2016 experience helped Husco prepare for some of the challenges the company faced with regard to documentation, language and some cultural differences, but new challenges surfaced as well.
- Schuetz said that being very fresh to the U.S. workforce, the refugees needed to be taught what the “professional expectations were in the U.S.”
- Work instructions needed to be translated into Pashto and reformatted to accommodate reading from right to left rather than left to right.
- “None of the individuals had licenses or had a means of getting to work,” said Schuetz. “So, we needed to quickly lean on and partner with Manpower—who has been vital in this—to help find and set up transportation.”
- To accommodate religious needs, Husco set up multi-faith meditation spaces so the new employees can pray throughout the day. In addition, for a facility-wide event during Ramadan, the company catered appropriate food so individuals could still participate and be part of the team while practicing their religious obligations.
Breaking the language barrier: To help the refugees’ English-speaking skills, Husco ensures there are translators available on every shift.
- Two employees, Hamza Jebran and Baitullah Jan—Afghan refugees themselves who studied English—serve as translators for their new colleagues. (Click here to watch an interview with Jebran.)
- “Another of our employees, Habib, couldn’t speak a word of English when we first met him a few months ago, and now we can have a conversation with him,” said Dreikosen. “Sometimes we will have one of our employees come up during a shift meeting and teach the rest of the crew some Pashto as they’re trying to learn some English and share their culture at the same time. It’s really cool to see.”
Eager to learn: For Dreikosen, the refugees’ motivation and eagerness to learn transcend the language and other cultural differences.
- “They’re as driven and motivated as any other employee who comes through Husco’s doors—and we caught on to that very quickly,” he said. “Their drive for success, given their situation, and how important it is to have a home and to feel welcomed, it’s inspiring.”
Strong foundation: Schuetz says that what has made Husco’s refugee program a success is the company’s strong foundation with its current employees.
- “It’s been successful for us because we have always made it a point to treat our people fairly and with respect,” he said. “The refugees have been welcomed by their fellow employees because they know that we treat everyone this way, and we would help anyone. There are many challenges, but this team decided they were going to make this work, and every obstacle that they encountered, they knocked it down and moved the ball forward.”
- The support from Husco has made the program a success: “It starts with our supervisors, our quality engineers, our technicians—they’re all in. They know there’s going to be bumps along the way, but they’ve bought in and know that this is the right thing to do,” said Dreikosen.
- Dreikosen notes that Husco is now receiving more referrals and inquiries from job seekers of all sorts of backgrounds. They’ve heard about the good the company does and how welcoming it is, and that attention has made the company more attractive in the eyes of job seekers.
The last word: “When this opportunity was brought to us through Lutheran Social Services, we grabbed onto it tightly and realized that with the challenges that we were going to encounter day to day, the end game was so much greater,” said Schuetz. “It’s been rewarding in so many ways.”
What the NAM says: “With more than 900,000 open jobs in manufacturing, we need to attract and hire from the widest talent pool possible,” said Manufacturing Institute President Carolyn Lee. “When manufacturers hire refugees, they see fewer turnovers and increased efficiencies, and at the same time, they’re helping improve the lives of refugees, their families and communities. Increasing diversity in the talent pool and developing more inclusive workplaces strengthens the competitive advantage of our industry and our workforce.”