How WCCO Belting Hires and Retains New Americans to Drive Business Forward, a Bylined Article in Prairie Business Magazine
By Thomas D. Shorma
We all see the “Now Hiring” signs posted in front of our local businesses when driving to and from the office each day. Our region continues to experience serious workforce shortage issues that pose a threat to our companies. Employers are struggling to find and retain the talent they need to operate successfully. However, North Dakota has a small but growing immigrant community and an increasing number of employers, including WCCO Belting, are putting stronger focus on the recruitment of New Americans.
WCCO has depended on employees from a blend of cultures to keep our business moving forward for decades. My father and WCCO founder, Edward Shorma, was a native-born U.S. citizen with immigrant parents. He spent years relocating dozens of families to the Wahpeton community where jobs were available. It is rooted in our culture that if a person has a willingness to learn and the determination to be a productive employee, they will be hired. Today, our workforce includes employees who speak 14 different languages.
Although recruiting immigrants is a great way to fill open positions and help bolster our businesses and community, there are challenges. The most common obstacle we encounter at WCCO is the language barrier. Many prospective employees interested in a career with our production workforce are just learning to speak English. As a manufacturer with custom operating procedures, it was critical for us to develop processes to keep all new employees calm and engaged. By doing so, we have increased job satisfaction while creating a loyal and dedicated workforce.
So how does WCCO Belting recruit employees? We encourage employees to recruit by word-of-mouth and rely heavily on employee referrals. For example, the instructor of an English language course at North Dakota State College of Science recently toured our production facility at the invitation of two New American employees who were taking the class. Employee referrals are also a main contributor to our growing workforce. Many of our New American employees have suggested friends or relatives for open positions. If an employee is referred to us and makes it through their first 90 days, both the new employee and employee who made the referral are monetarily rewarded. Additionally, our HR team works closely with Job Service of North Dakota to recruit anyone in the community looking for a career.
During the application process, we do our best to accommodate any potential employee. If a person can’t complete the form due to a language barrier, for example, our receptionist will offer her assistance. If we believe the person can work safely and effectively on the production floor, he or she is a candidate for employment. They are granted a meeting with our operations manager who determines their ability to comprehend spoken and/or written instructions. He then finds the best area for the employee to start their career and connects them with people they’d be comfortable working with.
WCCO has a training program to educate all new employees on belt manufacturing. Few people do what we do in the world, so whether you are fluent in English or not, you will be new to WCCO’s language. By starting everyone on a level playing field (while remaining sensitive to a person’s unique needs), it reduces the risk of conflict due to lack of familiarity or experience. As a matter of fact, our feedback is that new employees find their coworkers more open to offering them help having once been new to WCCO themselves. Employees feel included and valued from the beginning.
Hiring immigrants can provide a new set of challenges for businesses that may not be accustomed to diverse cultural barriers, but the positive impact it can have on your business and an individual’s career success is priceless. We are fortunate because throughout our history, and at the direction of our current leadership team, we continue to make people feel comfortable at WCCO Belting. In the end, a sense of belonging is a basic human need.
New Americans are not only helping WCCO Belting drive business forward, but are strengthening our culture by promoting the value of diversity. Can hiring New Americans do the same for your business?
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