Injection molder Steinwall Inc. and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. have released software designed to help with employee retention, an effort that began in 1994. That's when Maureen Steinwall, president of the Minneapolis company, threw up her hands at her worker-turnover problems. She had spent eight years trying to cut turnover, only to see it get worse — much worse.
By 1994, 69 percent of the company's employees left within a year, up from 18 percent in 1986. Steinwall blamed the schools for not preparing people and asked the state government for help.
They gave her some grant money and two educators with Ph.D.s — but their textbook solutions didn't help. So the group started brainstorming and decided that what employees lacked was a good orientation to the company.
Since many adults don't have good experiences in school, the traditional orientation bombed. Employees didn't adjust well, and since other jobs were plentiful, they left.
So Steinwall tried to make it fun — she and the educators developed 20 hours of computer-based animation, telling workers about the firm in a playful way.
The results were surprising. Turnover dropped to 18 percent, while manufacturing companies typically average more than 70 percent, she said.
"Orientation is the only thing I changed — I didn't change my wage base. I didn't change my managers," she said. "I just changed the way managers brought people on board."
Steinwall and SPI now have developed a way to customize the approach for other companies.
The "Orient Me" program guides new employees through company policies with up to 20 hours of interactive CD-ROMs. Washington-based SPI said it is providing up to $400,000 in seed capital and is marketing the software.
To customize the program, companies fill out eight books detailing their technology, policies, compensation, quality and safety programs, and general philosophy.
"People learn in different ways — if you do it right the first time, you have a much better chance of retaining the employee," said Catherine Randazzo, SPI senior director of membership and regions.
The information can range from big-picture things like company philosophy, to everyday issues like the location of the lunchroom, she said.
No company has completed all the workbooks yet and received its CD-ROMs. SPI has sold 82 of 100 discounted copies of the program for $4,000 each. The regular price will be $5,000 for SPI members and $10,000 for nonmembers.
SPI hopes to translate the program into Spanish, but has to resolve issues surrounding which dialects to use, Randazzo said.