For Company and Community: Meaningful Change in Peoria
Caterpillar Inc knew they needed to develop a more diverse talent pipeline for all roles within their organization, given the growing number of employees reaching retirement age and an increasingly competitive labor market. However, one of the largest areas of opportunity was in the production facilities. The manufacturing skills gap made recruitment of young people a challenge, as did the realities of their geography; one of Caterpillar’s locations is in Peoria, Illinois, where 19% of Black Americans are unemployed, nearly 5 times more than the national unemployment rate of 4%.
To solve these challenges, Caterpillar developed a partnership with Peoria Public Schools to pilot a new approach for attracting and retaining technical talent. The program, called “E4Life” addresses education, employment, economic foundation and essential skills (attendance, character, respect, teamwork, communication, productivity, attitude and economic fundamentals). By partnering with Manual Academy, a diverse high school with a manufacturing focus, Caterpillar was able to recruit students with technical knowledge and interest for paid, practical experience in the manufacturing environment. At the same time, students learned essential skills, partnered with a professional and personal mentor and also earned academic credit. Caterpillar applied design thinking learned from the Talent Rewire Innovation Lab to conduct their own empathy interviews with their target population of students in Peoria. These interviews were incredibly valuable in informing their partnership and programmatic approach, and also helped to involve other Caterpillar team members who hadn’t participated in the Innovation Lab directly. Caterpillar has expanded the program to now include targeting careers in the areas of STEM; this pilot will begin with a new cohort January of 2019 (Spring Semester).
Leadership commitment at the Caterpillar plant and within the school district helped the pilot get underway quickly and removed roadblocks to progress as they arose. Seven students completed the program, and four of those were hired to full time roles. Caterpillar plans to track these hires and compare them to their traditional employee pool in terms of performance, attendance, and retention. Students benefited from internal champions who helped them to navigate expectations and organizational culture, while at the same time those mentors were more engaged and enjoyed working with the students. CAT incorporated into their program 12 for Life’s Essential Skills training, which it learned about through the Innovation Lab. The training was so successful that the school district is now adopting the Essential Skills training into the curriculum for the entire district, made up of 6,000 students!
Based on the initial success of the pilot, there is demand from other Caterpillar facilities as well as other local school districts for partnerships and new ways to attract talent. Caterpillar has scaled up the program to include 4 school districts in the fall of 2018. Further, Caterpillar has expanded the program to now include targeted careers in the areas of STEM; this pilot will begin with a new cohort January of 2019 (Spring Semester). Scaling will also enable Caterpillar to better track key metrics and determine the business value of the program.
- The success of this program really was contingent upon a mutually beneficial partnership between both company and community. The relationship between Caterpillar and Peoria Public Schools was beneficial to both of us.
HR and People Consultant