Key player in NZ agriculture uses Work Place Learning as part of its recruitment strategy
Gallagher, a leading New Zealand and worldwide expert in Animal Management Systems, finds cooperative education extremely beneficial in helping overcome the current New Zealand labour shortage.
- About Gallagher Group
- Gallagher Group and Cooperative Education
- Benefits of Cooperative Education to Gallagher
Gallagher is a large and successful company based in Hamilton. The Gallagher Group has two major divisions - Animal Management Systems and Security Management Systems. Animal Management Systems specializes in electric fence systems, electronic animal identification, animal weighing systems, gates, automatic gate openers and lastly electric fence systems for pets.
Security Management Systems has three areas, Cardex, perimeter electric fences, and biometric identification using finger prints. The Gallagher Group also has a number of other companies, for instance a plastics tool and die design and manufacturing company called Sunplas, a plastics molding company called Gallagher Plastics and PEC which manufactures fuel pumps.
Clearly this is a sizeable business, their office building is shown below, and behind this is some of their manufacturing facilities. The majority of the above companies are located on this same site so there is much collaboration across the different divisions, especially in the product development area.
This wide range of products, examples shown above and to the right, means that Gallagher’s has to have world leading expertise across many disciplines. Thus they have in house knowledge of electronics, both in terms of power electronics and electric fence design, and consumer electronics for animal management systems. Plastics is also another specialty as most products use some kind of plastic material in their manufacture or use. Like any modern company they have software teams to help with the control of products and the human interfaces. Furthermore all of the these systems must operate in the challenging environment on farm. This includes things like intense UV light, rough animals, noisy power supplies and a wide range of temperatures. Hence the right people are an important source of in house knowledge for efficient product development.
Started in the 1930’s by Bill Gallagher, and still in family ownership today, Gallagher’s is in 2008 celebrating 70 years of success in business. Their business operations are large by New Zealand standards, they employ over 700 staff in New Zealand and at least a further 300 internationally. And in New Zealand you can purchase their goods at 220 different store locations. Their success has been recognized with a multitude of awards, including the 2007 Export Honorary Award recongnizing their significant contribution to the export sector and in 2004 they were awarded a Hi-Tech Award.
Gallagher recognize that their success is due to their staff. Stating:
Among the many Gallagher strengths was, and still is today, is the ability to recruit loyal and capable staff. They have held true the Gallagher philosophies, such as Quality Control and Attention to Detail…. The company continues to receive world class awards, due in no small part to the efforts of the staff of Gallagher Group.
Many companies are facing challenges in "finding, hiring and retaining qualified employees” as a recent Deloitte article stated.
Gallagher is being proactive in this area, and one of the ways in which they are helping overcome this skill shortage, is building a close relationship with the cooperative education section of their local university, the University of Waikato. This relationship has been ongoing for a number of years, and has been beneficial for both Gallagher and the University. Bill Gallagher, the Chairperson, CEO and son of the founder, is very positive about the impact of cooperative education, saying:
To be internationally competitive, we need graduates with high qualifications and relevant work experience. Co-operative education students hit the ground running when they graduate and quickly make a contribution to the New Zealand economy.
Thus it is not surprising that the Technical Development Managers, Tony Smith and Steve Bell have between them 3 students a year. Tony looks after the approximately 25 mechanical and electronic staff taking care of how products look, operate and are controlled. Steve looks after the software team of about 35 staff, who look after a range of software from simple micro controllers to more sophisticated “Windows” based programs.
On a typical year, these three students will work the time over the summer holidays. After the summer holidays, if Gallagher has found the student helpful, productive and a good investment, coupled with if the work is available and the student keen then they may work part time, typically 8 – 10 hours a week over the term time. This may occur in the final year of studies, thus giving a year's worth of work at Gallagher’s before graduation and potential full time permanent employment. Or the student may be employed first over the summer of their second year, thus giving potentially two years of work part time, or full time over summer before graduation.
There are many benefits, both to Gallagher’s and the students involved. These can be loosely grouped into two areas. First is the beliefs around the trial period and secondly the flexibility that this offers. There is much value to both the student and Gallagher in an extended trial period like this. This trial period adds the following value:
- Technical skill assessment. A trial period over a significant length of time gives a good indication of the technical skills of the student. As employers value not only the skills that are taught formally academically, but also the ability to learn new skills. This trial period gives Gallagher’s the ability to assess both academic skills and also the ability to pick up new technical skills quickly and easily.
- Soft skills. Because teamwork and communication are so important and essential for today’s business the extended trial period allows Gallagher to see the teamwork and communication skills of the employee in practice. These things are difficult to assess in an interview process, but after 2 years, with the stresses and pressures that will come on over this time, a very good assessment of the teamwork and communication skills can be undertaken. Thus if the student does become an employee they will add to the team, not subtract from it due to poor teamwork.
- Quick and easy integration. Another benefit to Gallagher in using this style of recruitment is that when a graduate student comes on board as a permanent employee, they are “already integrated into the system, and don’t have to come up to speed.” The students are already conversant with the companies systems and operations. As with other large companies, Gallagher has systems in place for internal and external purchasing and procurement, S.A.P.and Lotus Notes. These software, combined with other in-house systems, require considerable time and effort for new staff to learn. Furthermore, forming positive working relationships with the different teams and departments takes time. After 2 years of working for the company, that is full time over two summers and part time for the remainder, the students are “very well integrated.” This eliminates the need to “oversee quite heavily until up to speed”, and “Quite a chunck of training has already been done over time”
- Staff retention. As students develop loyalty to Gallagher because the company has helped them through their degree. Hence, if they choose to work for Gallagher's upon their graduation, there is significant loyalty to Gallagher’s. This results in a higher probability that the students will stay with Gallagher group long term.
- Knowing best role for the student. As the student has been exposed to a number of different roles and environments over a period of time, the management can make sound decisions about the student's strengths and weaknesses; thus, they are able to place the student in a role to which they are well suited.
- Known as good employer. One of the intangible benefits for Gallagher is the positive reputation they develop with the local campus, as a good employer. The employment of summer students, coupled with other interactions on campus, has developed a positive on-campus vibe about working for Gallagher. Clearly, measuring reputation and calculating a return on investment are difficult. However, hopefully this results in more high caliber students contemplating Gallagher as a viable career path.
- Flexibility. The other key advantage to this approach is its inherent flexibility - students help out where the extra pair of hands is helpful. Therefore, they provide instant, trained boosts to projects at the required stages. As they jump between projects, they gain experience in prototyping, testing and paperwork. This enables students to make a smooth transition to full time employment, as they have a very good and broad knowledge of the company, the people and the culture.
One of the successes of this program is that a student's suitability can be identified over time. For example, a student employed over a recent summer was not offered further work because they did not fit into the company culture. This was only discovered after working for the company for some time, as their CV and interview had indicated they would be a good fit, when in fact, experience resulted in a poor fit. This benefited both the student and the company in significant time and effort.
Another example is student, Mark, who worked over summer and has now graduated. He does not want full time work, as he is expecting to travel overseas. However, he is seeking some part time work for the interim. Because of Mark's previous experience with Gallagher , the company was able to capitalise on Mark's needs by employing him part time in research and development deploying product onto the factory floor. He was able to do this successfuly because of his previous experience working in the company, so he's proficent in Gallaghers systems and procedures.
Thus with so many benefits we can clearly see why Gallagher’s uses cooperative education as a key part of attracting and retaining personal who add value to their business.