How jet-engine innovator Pratt & Whitney is building its next-generation workforce

BY Gregory Seay

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Pratt & Whitney hosted a Diversity & Inclusion Summit attended by Pratt staffers. The Pratt employees pictured (from left to right) include: Jennifer Huynh, Latasha Hyatt, Janoye Williams and Ashanti Osbourne-Martin.
Two of the region's largest employers -- Hartford HealthCare and Pratt & Whitney -- are in constant hiring mode as they seek to build up their diverse workforces with top talent. This is a behind-the-scenes look at their recruitment strategies.

Pratt & Whitney, for generations an innovator in piston and jet-turbine airplane engines, is applying its innovation mien to recruiting, developing and retaining workers — and future leaders — at its engineering and assembly facilities in Connecticut, the U.S. and abroad.

From the novel, including radio recruiting spots during Red Sox baseball games to offering new and existing hires a "flex'' work schedule, to the tried-and-true, like regular online job postings and cash bounties to employees who refer hirees, Pratt is pulling out all the stops in its bid to hire 25,000 new workers by 2025.

Many of the new hires will replace thousands of aging Pratt hands who are headed for retirement now and in the next few years in what company officials acknowledge is perhaps its biggest peacetime staffing buildup since right after World War II.

Click here to read how Hartford HealthCare pursues multiple strategies to find and retain a robust workforce pool.

The East Hartford jet-engine builder, whose 2017 global sales topped $16 billion as the largest division for Farmington conglomerate United Technologies Corp. (UTC), in the past 30 months already has hired 15,000 salaried, skilled and semi-skilled workers — more than halfway to its target, said Tara St-Pierre, Pratt's executive director for talent and a key speartip in the company's recruiting and workforce development efforts. St-Pierre says she's confident Pratt will meet its goal.

"We have innovation in our blood,'' St-Pierre said. "We're always looking at more innovative ways of doing what we do, whether it's an engine or processes.''

But despite its best efforts at out-of-the-box approaches to recruiting workers, Pratt finds that some of its hires come through friends and family sharing networking job leads/opportunities.

With about 40,000 employees in total, Pratt has a multi-pronged approach to integrating newcomers and veterans into a cohesive ball of talent. Given Pratt's economic importance as a major procurer of goods and services from other companies in and outside Connecticut, whatever staff recruiting-development path it carves, is likely to serve as a blueprint for other employers.

"We're a manufacturing company in full growth mode,'' St-Pierre said, citing strong demand for Pratt's geared turbofan passenger-jet engine and the F-135 turbofan that propels the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. and its military allies.

Career opportunities

Pratt's in-house team of talent searchers-developers, St-Pierre said, scour traditional talent leads, like online career and job-listing sites, and do lots of community outreach in high schools, public and private technical training schools and colleges. At any one time, she said, Pratt has some 500 college interns assigned to facilities worldwide, mostly in Connecticut.

Janoye Williams, 26, joined Pratt five years ago, not through an online jobs board, but through old-fashioned networking. Williams, whose family migrated to Miami from Jamaica when he was a boy, was studying abroad in Germany while schooling at Penn State University, when a friend suggested he consider a Pratt internship.

He interned for a summer in sales at Pratt in East Hartford. After graduating in 2014 with his supply-chain management degree, Pratt hired and assigned him to its two-year rotational development program for its novice supply-chain professionals.

During that time, Williams used Pratt's Employee Scholar Program tuition-reimbursement perk to enroll at UConn, obtaining his master's in financial risk management. Pratt rewarded him with a full-time job as a procurement account specialist, overseeing a half-dozen suppliers who account for a $26 million annual spend from Pratt, he says.

His early years interning with Pratt, even leaving Miami behind to settle into Connecticut's cold climate, have all been worth it, Williams says.

"Absolutely. I've taken myself out of a comfort zone. Pratt has offered me the opportunity to grow my career,'' he said. "I've had the opportunity to travel and go places I've never been before."

In return, Williams has injected himself into nurturing Pratt's culture, as a mentor to younger Pratt hirees via its INROADS program. He is president of INROADS' 100-member Hartford/Springfield alumni chapter, and is involved in Leadership Greater Hartford's Quest leadership-development initiative.

"I saw a lot of opportunity to give back to interns," he said.

As busy as he is inside and outside work, Williams, who is single, recently found time to purchase his first home, in Glastonbury.

He says Pratt tries hard to connect recruits and employees, however, he laments that its social-media engagement is "a little behind the eight ball in the social-networking world.''

He also would like to see Pratt implement a more formalized mentor program, particularly for those Millennials who, he says, "may not know how to navigate their careers.''

Diversity focus

Amid its globe-spanning talent search, the company has put a premium on ethnic and gender diversity, St-Pierre says.

Pratt has aligned with some of the world's leading female peer-professional groups, including Women in Manufacturing (WiM), Women in Aviation International, and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Pratt engineer Jonna Gerkin just finished her one-year term as president of the 40,000-member SWE organization.

In May, Niasia Williams, a 23-year-old hired at Pratt 18 months ago as a mechanical engineer and who is working toward her second master's degree, was seated as chair of the National Association of Black Engineers. The group aims to recruit more people of African descent into the field.

Pratt, along with parent UTC and its sister divisions, employs many members of the National Society of Black Engineers. Both Williamses say men and women of color predominate as their mentors.

In January, SWE and Pratt's parent, UTC, Gerken said, introduced their "Re-Empower Program," enabling middle-aged women to resume their careers after being away two years or more, raising children or caring for ailing or aging relatives. Entrants with at least five years of professional work experience undergo 16 weeks of paid coaching, mentoring and training to prepare for career re-entry, according to UTC.

Both WiM and SWE have Hartford and/or Connecticut chapters. WiM sponsors each October its annual "Girls in Aviation Day'' program, exposing school-age females to career opportunities in that sector. Pratt is an eager participant in that event, St-Pierre said, as well as a similar one targeted at interesting high-schoolers in aviation careers.

Last spring, Pratt and the area Junior Achievement partnered to host high-school girls on its East Hartford campus "to a day in the life at Pratt,'' St-Pierre said. Pratt also signed a pledge with "Paradigm for Parity," a coalition of business leaders eager to end the gender hiring and pay gap in American commerce, to gain parity for females in corporate leadership roles by 2030.

"Women are important to us, to ensure we fill the pipeline,'' St-Pierre said.

St-Pierre pointed to herself as an exemplar of Pratt's new generation. She was recruited to Pratt & Whitney Canada four years ago from another U.S. technology conglomerate, Honeywell in New Jersey, which did $40 billion in sales in fiscal 2017. Many of the same attributes other hires cite for joining Pratt apply to her, St-Pierre said.

"I like traveling. I fly a lot,'' the 39-year-old West Hartford resident said about her job. "I'd say it's a pretty great place to work. People are very close to each other. It's a team environment. … We get to work on a lot of innovative products. We're looking for people who are curious, who enjoy collaborating."

Angela Boccuzzio

Angela Boccuzzio, 22, is a third-generation Pratt worker hired to make engine fan blades two years ago after graduating from Meriden's H.C. Wilcox Technical High School. Her father is a toolmaker for Pratt, from which both his parents — her grandparents — are now retired.

Boccuzzio fondly recalls accompanying her dad, starting at age 8, to Pratt on "bring-your-child-to-work'' days. When he told her Pratt wanted to hire people with her skills working with metal grinders and millers, and programming computer numerically controlled machines, she leapt.

"I thought that was pretty cool. It's a big family atmosphere here,'' she said. "Everybody says 'good morning' … . When I come in, I'm always busy. I love being productive.''

Boccuzzio says she earns around $30 an hour working Pratt's first shift, enough time to begin Sept. 3 her online college coursework toward an engineering/computer science degree from Southern New Hampshire University. Single, she says she, too, just purchased her first house, in Middletown.

Pratt, along with other Connecticut manufacturers and technology companies, has forged close partnerships with this state's network of vocational-technical high schools and community colleges, most of which now feature curriculum devoted to advanced manufacturing, welding, computer numerically controlled machine programming, among others.

Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Manchester Community College and private, for-profit Goodwin College in East Hartford are among two- and four-year secondary schools with manufacturing-technology curricula and certifications.

Once hired, Pratt has crafted a regimen aimed at developing and retaining workers. It has "employee resource groups'' that provide "newbies'' with a sense of "community" inside the company.

Pratt also introduced a full-day new-employee orientation each Monday at nearby Rentschler Field, where new hires learn about Pratt's history and culture from some of Pratt's leaders and fellow workers.

It also periodically surveys new hires about their progress and established a "buddy program'' to match newbies with Pratt veterans, partly to stay engaged with them and to provide a communications lifeline in case any are struggling.

"It helps with their integration,'' St-Pierre said.

Ongoing skills training and development for all Pratt workers is another area of focus, she said.

Pratt has partnered with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT), housed on its campus, that conducts technology skills training along with leading-edge process, materials and technology research.

CCAT earlier this year teamed with Pratt to train a select group of diverse pupils in air-foil production, a job that can pay $28.75 an hour.

Also, Pratt teamed with Thayer Leadership Development Group, based in West Point, N.Y., home of the U.S. Military Academy, to help shape the next generation of leaders at the aircraft-engine builder.

St-Pierre joined other Pratt executives not long ago for a 2-day program centered around the military concept known as "commander's intent.''

"It's communicating to your team the 'what' and the 'why' but not the 'how' because there are different ways to get to the same result,'' she said.

Later this year, Pratt and Thayer will host a leadership-training session for Pratt executives based in its facilities in Singapore and Poland, St-Pierre said.

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