As corporate talent acquisition manager for Milton, Wis.-based Charter Next Generation, Thunder Burkhart guides a team of recruiters to meet and align on the packaging maker's recruitment goals and initiatives.
"Together, we develop strategies and partnerships to cultivate a unified approach to talent acquisition unity within our company," Burkhart said.
The coronavirus pandemic created hurdles for growing a workforce.
"CNG is expanding to support our nation's need for flexible packaging that protects our food, [supplies] personal protective equipment and medical supplies to our front-line workers and provides vital products to our global supply chain," she said. "Our leadership teams have worked tirelessly to provide safe workplaces, additional income and funding for our employees throughout the pandemic — and an amazing amount of support for our front-line workers."
As a self-described "strongly operationally minded individual," Burkhart welcomes daily routines and day-to-day norms. But when the pandemic hit, those routines were stripped from daily life.
"The pandemic taught me that we cannot control all external factors, and it is okay to not have an immediate response to new challenges," she said. "We will try new things, and we may fail, but we will continue to push for effective solutions to any new challenges we may face."
Burkhart graduated with an associate degree from North Central State College in Mansfield, Ohio.
Her first role in the plastics industry was with Next Generation Films, which joined with Charter NEX to become Charter Next Generation in 2019.
"My interest in plastics came from statistical data indicating that the industry was growing at a rapid speed," she said. "I was excited to bring my knowledge and expertise into an innovative industry that would continue to support and positively impact economical and sustainable growth."
In early 2020, she developed a centralized hiring center for the company, which included building recruitment processes for eight plant locations from one remote site. The team grew from two members to seven.
"We strategically onboarded each plant location and implemented strategies, analytical tactics, and standardized processes. The team has built relationships with plant leadership, community centers as well as local high schools and colleges. Through perseverance and dedication, this startup task was accomplished in under eight months," she said.
Burkhart is involved with Richland Young Professionals and Richland County Earth Stewardship.
"There is no greater achievement than building a cohesive team that strives to live by the company's culture playbook, align with companywide goals and push to excel our growth," she said. "I feel honored to have the opportunity to help so many individuals grow both professionally and personally."
Q: What's an accomplishment of yours that most people don't know about, either for work or in your personal life?
Burkhart: I was previously part of an organization that was very willing to listen to new business ideas. The company owners believed in our hopes and dreams, backed by analytics and data to expand their business to additional locations. I partnered with a manager to open an office in a new location and in a very short time became the branch manager, developing a team and growing a business at a rapid rate. I was just 22 at the time and certainly doubted my abilities. I had an amazing coach who continued to motivate me, and most importantly, believed in me.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Burkhart: Agricultural film technology is advancing rapidly. Due to world food demands, preserving our crops against pests and environmental hazards is a priority. The market continues to advance and expand its focus on biodegradable films and sustainability strategies.
Q: What is your personal "mold" that you are breaking?
Burkhart: Taking the "recruiting norm" and challenging it to be something different. Talent acquisition teams are certainly appreciated but in some companies are viewed as a team that "talks to people" and "does hiring" for a living.
At CNG, we have proved we are much more. We are analytical, data-driven team members who provide strategic resources and build important business relationships with our department leaders. We are brand ambassadors and community liaisons. We will expand the comfort zone, we will approach tasks from new perspectives, and we will take risks.