“The only strategic advantage we have over our competition is our people,” says Brian Collins, vice president of people operations at Jack Laurie Group, a commercial and residential interiors contractor that is locally owned and operated. “Everybody has access to buying the same material and the same tools. There’s nothing proprietary in any of that other than the talent that we employ and the development we provide those individuals.”
Collins and the management team at Jack Laurie Group say they are very proud of the unique approach the company is taking to recruit strong employees, develop them and retain them for advancing career opportunities and to secure the company’s future.
“Just like everyone else in our industry, we spent a long time experiencing a labor shortage,” says Mike Keller, director of learning and development, commercial construction at Jack Laurie Group. “I tend to look at it as a skill shortage instead of a labor shortage because we get dozens and dozens of applications from people who are not qualified to do what we need them to do. So, we spent time with Associated Builders and Contractors and the U.S. Department of Labor and went through the process of starting to build our own in-house, four-year apprenticeship program for our floor covering division. We’re now at the end of our fourth year, so we have our first group of graduates finishing up and, of course, each subsequent year, a new group starts.”
Keller describes the program as a win-win for the people being trained and for Jack Laurie Group.
“In those four years, they receive their journeyman’s card and it focuses on three different disciplines within the flooring industry: soft goods like carpet; resilient flooring, like vinyl planks and sheet vinyl; and they spend two years working on ceramic tile. They also have the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree through Vincennes University. And you really see a difference between the guys who are just starting and the guys who are finishing their fourth year – whether it be growth and professionalism or their personal accomplishments and their skills out on the jobsite as well.”
The people going through the program are full-time, paid employees at Jack Laurie Group, which President and COO Dave Foellinger says is not typical in the commercial flooring industry.
“I know our apprenticeship program is absolutely unique,” says Foellinger. “I believe we’re still the only privately held company that has a bona fide apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor, focused on commercial flooring. Usually, apprenticeship programs are owned and administered by labor unions. Being a merit-based company, we took it upon ourselves to control our own destiny.”
“And our objective with regard to the apprenticeship program is not completely a selfless act,” says Collins. “The reality is that nationally, we’re close to being short more than a million skilled tradespeople in construction in terms of demand versus supply. One of the ways we’re trying to combat the talent shortage is to grow our own.”
With commercial offices and residential show rooms in both Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Jack Laurie Group employs 400 people and has more than three dozen people going through the apprenticeship program. The company was founded in 1950 and serves the entire state of Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio.
“We are growing and continue to grow,” says Keller. “We realize that access to talented people is our greatest barrier to growth. We’re looking for great people all of the time and with our focus on people development, the apprenticeship program and other development initiatives, we know the company that wins the battle for talent wins the war.”
Along with implementing the apprenticeship program several years ago, Foellinger says the management team spent a lot of time coming up with a set of core values that prove to be both meaningful and effective.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What are the core values the best of our people have and what values do we share?’, because core values are things that cannot be aspirational,” says Foellinger. “We involved a lot of people in the organization and came up with Integrity, Accountability, Candor and Teamwork. Coincidentally, with the acronym for I ACT, we say, ‘How I act matters.’ Our hiring, our evaluations and our people development are all geared toward those core values.”
Alex Samudio, who is now the Fort Wayne director of field operations for Jack Laurie Group, says the company’s core values played a big role in his decision to leave a job in the construction management industry in Chicago and join the Jack Laurie Team.
“What drew me to the company was the people,” says Samudio. “Everybody in upper management was very particular when it came to the interviewing process. I think I went through four interviews. I really liked everyone and found them to be very trustworthy. They made my transition from Chicago to Fort Wayne easy. And what’s great about our company is that you can move up. Advancement opportunities are a real thing here. I started out as a field superintendent in 2015 and in just five years, I’ve become a director. Our employee development plan works, but the person needs to be on board with it and go through the process, which is training, living the core values and living and breathing the company. At the end of the day, they have a career out of it.”
Foellinger adds that it’s not just the apprenticeship employees who undergo training, the effort to continually improve employee performance stretches company-wide.
“We have engaged several outside resources on the management leadership side of things,” says Foellinger. “We have a group of leaders going through a program that involves mentorship and really focuses on self-development. We say we’re in the construction industry, but we really are a people development company.”
Owner(s): John Laurie
Address: 2020 E. Washington Blvd. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46803
Phone: (260) 745-2161
Years in Business: 71
Number of Employees: 400
Products & Services: Commercial flooring, epoxy & resinous floors, polished concrete, sports & athletic floors, commercial cleaning, commercial interiors and residential flooring.