Industry Forum

Sept. 11, 2014

Silver Spring, Md. 

Anita Skotnicki,                                         

SVP Human Resources

Veolia Transportation

Recruiting the right people for the right jobs and retaining top talent is at the heart of every successful company. There is not one magical formula to ensure that it is done well; instead, it is a melding of culture, behavior, processes and systems, employee development, company values and the list goes on.

At Veolia, we have found that professionalizing the recruitment function has helped us on the front-end. This comes in many forms:

  • Developing processes around talent acquisition that make the candidate’s experience smooth and thorough
  • Spending advertising dollars efficiently and in a focused manner — identifying which newspapers and websites bring in the most and best-qualified candidates
  • Implementing referral bonuses, which can work when well-structured
  • Ensuring that your website is appealing and chock full of information, with an applicant tracking system that makes the process efficient
  • Tending to the basics, like ensuring that your parking area is sufficient and that the building entrance and the reception personnel are welcoming for candidates

What comes after you’ve done a great job in focused sourcing of candidates? Retaining great employees! This, too, comes in many forms:

Training managers to show respect and care for employees is key. HR research indicates that employees do not leave companies for higher wages alone — they leave or stay because of how their managers and supervisors treat them.

  • Teaching managers and supervisors how to give constructive feedback is essential
  • Identifying and developing talented employees
  • Maintaining a comprehensive and competitive benefits package
  • Defining expectations and holding employees accountable to the goals
  • Communicating well about the organization and the specific unit and individual performance to make everyone feel like they are part of the team
  • Recognizing people publicly!

Regarding retention, management teams often fail to recognize the true costs of having vacancies. One obvious cost is overtime, but the burnout of those who are taking on extra duties to cover for the vacancies is often overlooked. Further, if we are talking about transit drivers or rail engineers, then safety can also be affected by high turnover. Studies have shown time and again that transportation workers who have more than one year of service typically have fewer accidents, which is why we not only want to hire the best but then retain them.

Important retention programs at Veolia include: wellness initiatives (including flu shots, health risk assessments and a weight loss contest), safety awards and recognition of operators who have driven a million miles without an accident, barbeques where the executives cook for the frontline staff, and the Reach! program — where managers build goals that stretch their talents and help us move our business forward.

For Veolia, this all comes down to caring, and it’s caring that is at the heart of our values. We strive to communicate well and ensure that managers exemplify our values, which are delineated in each letter that “CARE” represents.

C:  Commitment to customers

A:  Accountability, especially for safety

R:  Respect for others and the planet

E:  Empowerment of employees

In the end, it’s all about people!!! Employees stay with a company if their talents are recognized, they feel valued, they are treated fairly and can contribute to the company’s success. While many of the concepts listed above seem obvious, getting the right mix is not simple; we believe that our guiding light is to keep our eyes on the values every day in everything we do.

Milwaukee, Wis.

Anita Gulotta-Connelly 

Managing Director

Milwaukee County Transit System

Milwaukee is celebrating 150 years of public transportation, a long, proud history of adding to the quality of life of its citizens. During this same year, Milwaukee County, in conjunction with Milwaukee Transport Services Inc., has operated the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) for 35 years. Not surprisingly, we still have some employees working here that not only witnessed the change in ownership from private to public, but worked through the change.

I have personally worked here for 31 years and there are many MCTS staff members who are in the multi-decades club. Our average retention rate is 17 years and we have one employee who has been with the organization for more than 40 years!  

We retain employees by providing good, family supporting jobs that allow individuals to become productive and respected members of the community. Our employment and benefits packages are attractive and the provision of pension benefits encourages individuals to remain with the organization over the long-term. This retention rate reduces replacement and training costs and develops a work force that is invested in the success of the organization.

I think it is also important to let employees know they are valued. More is needed beyond the paycheck. Employee appreciation day, long-term service recognition, an open-door policy and respectful day-to-day interaction are important ways to be inclusive and let individuals know that their work is appreciated. 

Beyond this, good communication is extremely important, particularly during these challenging economic times, when services are being reduced, and the future of their jobs is discussed every week in the newspaper. This is no easy task with 1,200 employees, most of them working independently out on the street. Several years ago, we initiated an e-Newsletter that is delivered to employees’ work or home email every two to four weeks. Tough discussions happen in this venue. Employees are given firsthand knowledge about budget, legislative issues, route cuts and personnel changes. We are also exploring other options, such as electronic displays at the stations, to improve our connections.

Finally, we continue to remind employees of our ultimate mission. We make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to get to work, school, shopping and all of the services essential for life. Despite the day-to-day challenges, people are proud to work here and to know that they are making a difference in our community.

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Rick Wood                                                   


CHK America

While there are many reasons that we are able to attract and retain top-level talent to our team, our commitment to excellence is the overarching philosophy that draws key job seekers with “A” level talent to CHK America. Our in-house team of planners, researchers, editors, designers, cartographers and production staff, many of whom are former transportation agency specialists, come to work with us at CHK. Our employees set high standards for themselves knowing that tens of millions of riders a day will be using their information designs to navigate the nation’s transit systems. Developing an effective customer information program is a team effort and all the members of the team take immense pride in the finished product.

Of course we have other general programs and policies that are important to the well-being of our employees. 

To remain competitive with business in general, health care is of utmost importance to our employees, and therefore, to date, CHK America has been able to pay 100 percent of the health insurance coverage for each of its employees. Our plan is comprehensive and offers diverse benefits.  Not in the plan, but something our employees seem to like is the free supply of vitamins we keep on hand. Better for you and more energizing than endless cups of coffee!

We encourage our employees to grow in their careers and managers are encouraged to attend training programs at least once a year.

One benefit of being part of an international company is that we are able to organize employee overseas work exchange programs.  CHK America maintains an exchange program with our London office for cross training — and as a perk for excellent performance.

We encourage our employees to get out of the office and meet with clients face to face to discuss projects; one-on-one meetings promote a sense of ownership for each project and provide a personal relationship between staff and client. We also try to send our senior staff to participate in APTA and state conferences to further support client interaction and ongoing education. 

We value the importance of the overall work environment for our employees. In particular, given the type of projects we handle, working with outdated computer hardware or software can be frustrating, so we provide state-of-the-art computers, computer programs, printers, hardware, software and support devices to enable employees to complete their work with maximum efficiency and the least amount of stress.

And then there are just the fun things we do to encourage company morale, for example, Pizza Friday, bowling nights and special events like the Old Spanish Days celebration where every business in Santa Barbara closes at noon the first Thursday in August to celebrate the city’s heritage.

And finally, we were selective with our office location which has proven to be an enormous attraction. We are located in one of Southern California’s prettiest cities — Santa Barbara, the American Riviera.   Whether riding a bike, driving or using MTD, the city’s excellent public transportation system, our employees’ commute is generally 15 minutes or less.