In 2012, Vermeer management realized it had been hearing the same refrain from team members for some time: There was a shortage of available, high-quality child care in the Pella, Iowa, area, and it was complicating parents’ work schedules.
Workers’ challenges are the company’s challenges: Rather than respond with a collective shrug, the company recognized there was a problem—and it vowed to find a solution.
- “Especially with early morning shifts, you heard a lot about people leaving their children at a neighbor because parents had to be at work before the bus came or school started,” Vice President of Operations Mindi Vanden Bosch, a third-generation Vermeer family member, recalled.
- “We put a task force together and brainstormed. Over the next year and a half, we built the Yellow Iron Academy, Vermeer’s early childhood education center. Every answer from employees since has been, ‘It’s been a game-changer.’”
Not just care, but education, too: The Yellow Iron Academy, which gets its name from the company’s yellow products, isn’t just a nod at child care. With day-to-day operations run by award-winning third-party child care services provider Bright Horizons, it is a full-fledged center led by qualified professionals, and it aims to ready children for academia—and eventually, careers.
- “We’ve had teachers say, ‘Wow, these Yellow Iron kids are coming in with a strong readiness to learn,” said Vermeer Vice President of Human Resources Kate Guess, whose own children attended the center. “Yellow Iron Academy is taking the first steps to encourage kids to consider STEM careers like those in manufacturing,” Guess said.
- During Engineering Week, Vermeer professionals come in and talk to the center’s older kids about their jobs as engineers. The kids take regular field trips “across the road” to Vermeer’s facilities to see its museum, equipment and Global Pavilion. “It’s a place where they get excited about all the disciplines of STEM,” Guess said.
Meeting a community’s need: The center, which remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has achieved its intended goal of providing parents with top-of-the-line supervision and education while alleviating worry about having to cobble together care solutions for the next shift.
- Yellow Iron Academy isn’t just for Vermeer kids, though. While Vermeer team members and others with a connection to the company (grandparents, for example) receive discounted care rates, the center “is for the whole community,” Vanden Bosch said. “There is a need for child care in the area and across the entire state.”
- Out of the approximately 130 kids at Yellow Iron Academy, about 75 have Vermeer connections, Guess added.
Filling in school gaps: One of the most appreciated aspects of Yellow Iron Academy is its offering of before and after care, or programs prior to and following the school day.
- The center opens at 5:30 a.m. and is a pick-up and drop-off point on local school bus routes, so Vermeer team members don’t have to worry about school transportation for their children.
Other Vermeer team member benefits: Vermeer offers its team members several other differentiated, highly sought-after benefits. These include an onsite health care clinic and pharmacy, where both doctor visits and prescriptions are more cost effective than they are elsewhere, and a chaplaincy program.
- Both team members and their dependents are eligible to use the clinic and the pharmacy (features Vermeer has offered for 25 years) and many do.
- Vermeer has multiple chaplains across the company’s locations. These chaplains are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to “support the emotional needs of the team,” Vanden Bosch said. “It is without question one of the things our team members most value.”
Child care advice for other manufacturers: “Child care is hard right now,” Vanden Bosch said. “Businesses have to go into it with the belief that it’s an investment in the workforce of today and tomorrow, knowing that there will likely be some costs they won’t recoup. But it’s one of the most viable ways to create a workforce.”