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Delkor's Unique, People-First Employment Structure: A National Model

Delkor's VP of Engineering, Rick Gessler, stands in front of a line of Trayfecta machines

This article was originally published in Enterprise Minnesota.

When the folks in the NBC newsroom in New York City wanted a creative way to talk about the latest job and unemployment numbers and their impact on the economy, they chose a small but mighty manufacturing plant in St. Paul to spotlight as a shining example of success.

In the segment, Delkor's CEO, Dale Andersen, walks among the myriad robotic machines that have helped the company double its revenue over the past few years, all the while paying top wages to its workforce — a workforce made up of highly educated workers.

Delkor Systems, a company that manufactures packaging systems for product shelves in retail stores across the country (you’ve no doubt seen their packaging in Walmart and other retailers) is on a hiring
spree. They’re looking to hire up to 30 more skilled employees to keep up with demand.

Half the company’s workers hold bachelor’s degrees. They are typically engineers charged with identifying new ways to develop product packaging and presentation schemes. The other half hold associate degrees. These are the workers trained for jobs in automation.

Maintaining a highly educated workforce, company leaders say, is part of their recipe for success. Patty Andersen, Vice President of Human Resources and Training, sits on advisory councils for several technical colleges and helps guide their curricula to produce the kind of graduates the industry needs.

Maintaining a highly educated workforce is part of [Delkor's] recipe for success.

“Not only can I be the voice for the OEMs, but I help them think about what they are teaching and what graduates need to know to be able to be successful in the workplace,” she says. “The other piece is career path mapping. In our engineering department, a third have a two-year degree. So many companies get boxed in by the belief that you cannot be successful in certain positions unless you have a four-year
degree. I would completely disagree with that. It is a combination of aptitude, experience and education. And when those three things come together, it’s amazing where you can go.”

To illustrate that fact, Rick Gessler, Delkor’s Vice President of Engineering, shares the story of an engineer who went above and beyond to learn some of the finer points of robotics. “One of our principal engineers has a two-year degree from a tech school and taught himself linear algebra — really advanced mathematics — so he could program the motion on our machines,” Gessler says. “Why does somebody do that? They must be inspired by their work, they must enjoy it, and they must find it compelling
and engaging and want to grow. You don’t teach yourself that kind of stuff just to get a paycheck on Friday.”

In that NBC report, Andersen revealed that employees at Delkor, if they stay a few years and keep learning and growing with the company, can earn a salary of $100,000 or more. Staying ahead of competitors in employee compensation, Andersen says, is one of the ways they attract employees and, more importantly, keep them. “We value our people as being our greatest resource,” Andersen says. “The challenge in the area of robotics is we have to invent things that have never existed before. And if you look at how that value translates to the individual — it doesn’t matter that someone’s 25 years old. If they have attained the skills to be able to do that, they deserve the compensation that goes with that responsibility.”

We value our people as being our greatest resource

Andersen says he’s repeatedly amazed at the talent that comes out of the technical schools. They come with solid baseline training and, after they arrive, they become sponges, learning new processes and contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the team. “If you put the people I’m talking about on an assembly line and paid them handsomely, they wouldn't quit because they are in love with their job and they are coming in every day and taking on new challenges,” Andersen says. “The person Rick was referring to who taught himself linear algebra on the side is the kind of person we’re talking about. Just amazingly talented. I was happy to see NBC News focus on this very exciting and futuristic career in robotics. It is important to get that message out to more people in the general public.”

NBC likely came to Minnesota because the state is performing a little better than the national average. While both the state and nation have seen unemployment rates creep in the last month, Minnesota is
still better at 3.1% versus the U.S. overall rate of 3.4%. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the state added 4,400 jobs in from July to August — the fourth straight month of labor force growth.

And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Minnesota’s manufacturing industry continues an upward trend in total workforce. Though hiring appears to be slowing in recent months, the industry as a whole has recovered from the pandemic, and there are more people working at Minnesota manufacturers than prior to the pandemic.

Read more stories like this one on Enterprise Minnesota's website.

Topics: Thought Leadership

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