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Business Council of Westchester panel weighs in on how to find and keep good employees

In talking with the companies, large and small, that make up the membership of The Business Council of Westchester, BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon said she hears a
common concern.

“Our members consistently tell us that finding good employees and keeping good talent, especially in these days of very low unemployment and a very competitive marketplace, is a real challenge and a challenge to their business growth,” Gordon told the Business Journal.

To help address that concern, the business group hosted a conference on attracting and retaining talent on Sept. 19 at Manhattanville College.

Titled “The Attraction Factor: What Drives The Chemistry, Culture and Cohesion of Today’s Successful Workforce,” the half-day conference featured two panel discussions and a keynote address from Jessica Schilling, Heineken USA’s senior vice president of human resources.

Business Council of Westchester employees
Jessica Schilling, Heineken USA’s senior vice president of human resources, gave the keynote address. Photo by John Vecchiolla

Schilling said Heineken recently moved several marketing employees from its Manhattan offices to White Plains, a switch that she said the company felt would help with cohesion, but did add some time to the commute for several of the employees.

For the move to be well received, it was important that the company remain flexible by offering employees the option to work some days from home, while also creating a unique environment, Schilling said.

“Our belief is that if you make the company special, and you are flexible with people’s needs, you can make it work and make it happen,” she said.

Sheila Appel, the U.S. regional director of corporate citizenship for IBM, moderated the two panel discussions. She said that IBM has started to use the term “new collar jobs” to describe its shift away from placing top value on having the exact degree for a job and more toward having the necessary skills.

Ten years ago, “For IBM and others, you’d really be looking at what were the educational degrees that people had for the jobs and careers you have in your industry?” Appel told the Business Journal between panels. “Today what we’re finding is a skill gap. So when we talk about talent, it’s really synonymous with the skills of the 21st century.”

In the day’s second panel, the conversation focused on both finding and elevating employees with skills that fit a company’s need and culture.

“What I look for in particular is people who compete and people who want to be part of a winning culture,” said Kristin Bernert, senior vice president of business operations for the New York Knicks and Westchester Knicks.

That’s driven in part by her belief, she said, that the attitude and work of the Knicks business and operations employees can impact what happens on the court.

“If our players feel like we have their backs, if our players feel like everyone in the organization is giving 100 percent and we’re on the same page, communicating, collaborating and being a great teammate, then they may do the same thing on the court that we are demonstrating behind the scenes.”

James Giangrande, managing director of Altium Wealth Management in Purchase, said his firm tries to create an environment where everyone from interns to upper management can be heard. The company hosts monthly town halls where anyone can discuss their thoughts and ideas with the rest of the employees.

“We want to empower everyone to have a role in taking on leadership in the organization,” he said.

Bob Oakes, vice president of global human resources for Ampacet Corp. in Tarrytown, said it’s important that employees feel safe to make mistakes. Ampacet is an international manufacturer of color additives for plastics. He said the company tries to encourage employees to try new approaches, even if it leads to errors.

“We want you to take initiative, we want you to take those leaderships roles,” Oakes said. “If you see a void in the room, fill it. Do something about it… It’s OK to make a mistake. I think that’s how we help facilitate and develop leaders in the organization.”


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