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Open Eyes, Open Heart

Iowa plant takes unique approach to hire employees

In the fall of 2017, the Exide Technologies plant in Manchester, Iowa, a staple in the community for 45 years, had jobs to fill. The battery manufacturer that employed more than 330, realized they couldn’t identify enough talent to meet hiring needs.

“We had big growth projections at the plant and our focus locally to fill open positions just wasn’t moving the hiring needle to the extent we needed it to,” said Jeff Klein, director of talent acquisition for Exide. “Toward the end of last year, discussions to expand our recruiting circle ramped up. Not long after, three of us from Exide were on a plane.”

Extending a Helping Hand

At the same time Exide was having these discussions, Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, struck Puerto Rico. Maria killed more than 3,000 Puerto Ricans while causing $100 billion in damages. By the end of the year, unemployment rates on the island reached more than 8%. With their homeland devastated, many Puerto Rico residents were looking to the U.S. for opportunities.

“We saw in the news what Maria was causing, specifically unemployment, and wanted to do something,” said Klein. “We were starting to think outside the box in regard to recruiting, and after some back and forth, thought this could be a way to help each other.”

Exide partnered with job website Indeed and Facebook to advertise a job fair that quickly generated interest. “We invested significant resources with paid advertising on the island,” said Klein. “We targeted a specific audience and used video and other content to explain the work and what relocation would entail prior to our onsite visit.”

Grand Slam Event

More than 175 people pre-registered for the job fair, sharing contact information that allowed Klein and others to begin preliminary discussions. “There were a couple individuals we were really excited about meeting,” said Klein. “Just the interest itself was truly eye opening and incredible. I thought if we left with two or three hires, this effort would be a home run.”

In December 2018, Exide staff held the job fair in Puerto Rico. The first candidate arrived a little after 7 a.m., using public transportation and saying he viewed the event as a life altering opportunity for him and his family. “He was actually one of our top candidates and after our interview got an offer,” said Klein. “When we told him he got the job he broke into tears. Heck, we all were practically in tears!”

Throughout the day, Klein and his colleagues conducted nearly 40 interviews. When all was said and done, 12 offers were extended. Based off the event’s success, Klein and others returned two months later and hired another eight workers. Out of the candidates that relocated from Puerto Rico to Manchester in 2018, 13 are still employed at Exide.

A Successful Transition

Job offers were just the first step of Exide’s process. Handling the transition of the new employees presented a whole new challenge. Yet, for Manchester plant manager Jason Taghikhani, the way his team handled this unique situation wasn’t the least bit surprising.

“Our employees have a history of being engaged in welcoming new hires from out of state, and in this case, far out of state, which has helped tremendously with employee retention,” said Taghikhani. “We have a great culture here. Many of our employees are friends outside of work and have been for years.  We also have many family members that work at Exide together, and everyone always welcomes new team members, especially these, very well.”

To help with the relocation and culture shock, Exide held cultural training at the plant and partnered with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to identify sponsor families for the new employees while they looked for permanent housing. “What they (the Chamber) and the rest of the community did was absolutely phenomenal,” said Klein. “They worked with local churches and offered clothing, toys for kids — really anything and everything they could need.”

The Manchester community also rallied and gave tours of the area to help the new residents get familiar with hospitals, pharmacies and everything their new home had to offer. The combined efforts resulted in a successful transition for everyone involved — something that still amazes Klein a year later.

“You know, when this idea was first brought up, I honestly didn’t think it would work,” said Klein. “Regardless of circumstances, I couldn’t believe someone would be willing to make such a drastic lifestyle change. Boy, I was wrong! Everyone’s situation is unique, and although an opportunity might not make sense to you, it makes sense to others. Looking back, this continues to serve as a reminder of how great things can happen when you go into a situation with open eyes and an open heart.”

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