Kristine Salerno—United Technologies Corporation
It’s been two years since you left your job—to spend more time with your family, care for aging parents, follow your military spouse when deployed—and you’re ready to get back on the horse. You have the experience, you have the credentials, but with interviews few and far between, you can’t help but wonder if opportunity has passed you by.
If you’re lucky, one of your applications will land on the desk of Kristine Salerno (or, more likely, her inbox).
She’s the human resources strategic partnerships and programs manager for United Technologies Corp. (UTC), and for the past year she’s been creating and rolling out an initiative designed to help these “returners” succeed.
Launched in 2018, it’s called the UTC Re-Empower Program, and it helps experienced professionals re-enter the workforce through a 16-week program based on a cohort approach of professional training and development. UTC works closely with experts in the field of re-entry, including Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and cofounder of iRelaunch, to craft challenging work assignments designed to make the transition as seamless as possible.
“We’ve completed three cohorts so far, and the results have been outstanding,” says Salerno. “We’re finding a great untapped talent source—people with deep experience and critical thinking skills. These skills and experiences bring the wealth and depth of knowledge UTC needs, and we’re happy to harness this value and welcome these talented individuals to the UTC family.”
Having spent much of the last five years overseeing the company’s recruiting strategy, Salerno knew the idea had promise when she began laying the groundwork in early 2017.
With just three “very intense” months of planning, developing outreach efforts and offerings to differentiate UTC’s program from others (such as benefits eligibility), by the following June Salerno had introduced the Re-Empower Program to UTC’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, Gail Jackson, and Laurie Havanec, vice president of talent.
The response? Let’s just say it was better than Salerno expected.
“We were 15 minutes into the presentation when Gail and Laurie said, ‘We love it, let’s go,’” Salerno recalls. “You have to remember, UTC is a huge company, and it’s not always easy getting a big initiative like this going. But they recognized the transformative potential the project had.”
UTC has a dedicated landing page on the company website—complete with a clickable list of job titles in everything from finance and engineering to supply-change management—to ensure job seekers know the carefully crafted experience they will receive as part of the Re-Empower Program.
The site also features detailed job descriptions, testimonies from program graduates and a video explaining the program which includes the program’s executive champion, Senior Vice President & Chief Digital Officer Vince Campisi.
The real deal
In most HR departments, an application with a gap in employment of two or more years would raise some red flags. Salerno and her team trained UTC’s recruiters to ignore these hiatuses in work experience and to focus more on degrees, experiences, agility and acumen.
Once hired, employees are put through the 16-week professional training program, which starts with an in-depth three-day program orientation. Once orientation is completed, cohort members start their assignments—the same jobs they’d have after successful completion of the program.
“This isn’t an internship; this is a real job, with substantial deliverables,” Salerno explains. “The program provides all the resources and a vast network to complement their work experience and ensure they’re ready to come on full time.”
According to Salerno, the Re-Empower Program is already a rousing success: After three cohorts—encompassing more than 20 candidates—the initiative has achieved a conversion rate of 95 percent, meaning most participants transition to full-time status upon successful completion of the program.
What’s more, the initiative’s success has sparked new recruiting initiatives, one of which has a similar aim of diversifying UTC’s massive workforce of 240,000.
In late 2018, UTC joined forces with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), a Department of Defense program that provides career opportunities to military spouses, thousands of whom are forced to leave their jobs and relocate every year. As of February 2019, more than 4,300 UTC jobs had been posted at the Military OneSource website.
Like Re-Empower, UTC’s MSEP program includes a comprehensive onboarding and training protocol. Going forward, Salerno hopes to create a subset of Re-Empower focused exclusively on military spouses, in addition to conducting more regional open houses in places where UTC has a strong employee base.
“We see this as a great opportunity to tap into yet another talent pool that’s historically underutilized,” Salerno explains. “When your spouse is reassigned to another location, it’s not always easy to find the kind of job in your field of study or expertise. Because UTC’s footprint is so big, we can be that resource and help military spouses find a job today and grow a career, despite their spouse’s assignment.”
Insight and outreach
In addition, UTC’s internal programs and Employee Resource Groups—including one focused on Hispanic leadership—are geared toward further diversifying and empowering their workforce. UTC has also partnered extensively with external organizations to bolster the company’s diversity efforts.
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) is one organization Salerno identifies as being critical to that broader goal. In fact, it was that kind of partnership that first compelled Salerno to make the leap from executive assistant—a title she held for nearly 13 years—to a role helping guide UTC’s strategic recruiting efforts.
“What I love most about UTC is that you can grow in any direction you want to,” Salerno says. “For me, that means being in a role where I can be out on the career fair floor, at conferences, building partnerships and creating programs that have an impact, and that includes our relationship with SHPE.”
As the company’s representative on SHPE’s Industry Partnership Council (IPC)—which includes such corporate luminaries as Google, Ford and Texas Instruments, Salerno, now serving as IPC’s chair, is exploring ways of bringing more Hispanic engineers into the UTC fold.
With SHPE’s annual conference, Salerno sees the true impact of the UTC-SHPE partnership. By the end of the most recent four-day conference, held in Cleveland this past November, UTC was able to place young SHPE members in internships, early career roles and experienced professional roles across the organization.
Salerno says the UTC-SHPE partnership makes a difference in the lives of the newly hired employees, with these new hires becoming STEM role models to their families and communities. What’s more, the partnership has an opportunity to make a broader impact for generations to come.
“In order to serve our global customers it’s imperative that we have a representative workforce, and SHPE aligns incredibly well with that mission,” Salerno says. “Every time we attend a SHPE event, we meet dedicated engineering students and professionals who are compelled to advance and grow the number of Hispanics in engineering, and that’s something we absolutely need to be a part of.”
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