Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Serves Up the National Career Readiness Certificate for Employee Success

The Organization:

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.
Waterbury, Vermont

The Challenges:

  • Assess the skills of current employees to help them define their career paths
  • Establish consistency in the measurement of foundational skills across all Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) manufacturing locations nationwide

The Solutions:

  • Institute job analysis by an ACT-authorized WorkKeys® profiler working with GMCR employees to define tasks and skill requirements for multi-level operational jobs
  • With the Community College of Vermont, establish an on-site Career Readiness Certification Program consisting of six learning modules. Three are devoted to the core ACT WorkKeys foundational skills assessments, making it possible for employees to earn a National Career Readiness Certificate.

The Results:

  • 100% of employees completing the course have earned a National Career Readiness Certificate
  • Eight job profiles have been completed; more will be added
  • Company plans to replicate the course at all locations to ensure standardization in measuring career skills

Company Overview

Founded in 1981, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., is recognized as a leader in the specialty coffee industry for its award-winning coffees, innovative brewing technologies, and socially responsible business practices. GMCR’s operations are managed through two business units. The Specialty Coffee business unit produces coffee, tea, and hot cocoa from its family of brands, including Green Mountain Coffee®, Newman’s Own® Organics coffee, Tully’s Coffee, and Timothy’s World Coffee®. The Keurig® business unit manufactures gourmet single-cup brewing systems. K-Cup® portion packs for Keurig Single-Cup Brewers are produced by a variety of licensed roasters and brands, including Green Mountain Coffee, Tully’s Coffee, and Timothy’s. Employing approximately 1,600 people nationwide, GMCR has locations in Waterbury and Essex, Vermont; Reading, Massachusetts; Toronto, Canada; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Sumner, Washington.

Publicly traded since 1993 (NASDAQ: GMCR), the company has posted double-digit net sales growth quarter after quarter. Much of the company’s growth has occurred through acquisition, which creates the need to establish consistency in culture and training across locations.

Industry Evolution and Training Philosophy

In the first two or three decades of GMCR history, much of the production, packaging, and distribution of coffee products were done manually. Computer technology and advances in robotics have dramatically altered the work environment, escalating the required skill levels of employees. As job tasks change, training of current employees and the selection of new employees also need to adapt.

Prudence Sullivan, director of continuous learning and organizational effectiveness at GMCR, explains that only a few years ago, you could be hired without computer skills and survive in the mostly manual environment. “Today, that’s not feasible,” she says. “If employees want to take a day off, they must enter it on a computer. Employee self-evaluations at performance appraisal time are also done by computer.”

GMCR wants to be sure that employees are able to grow with the company and with advances in technology, so training and development opportunities are key to continued individual and company success.

Sullivan says that at Green Mountain, “employees drive their own career path. We provide the opportunity for training, but they select the path they wish to take.” She uses this analogy: “Employees drive their own race cars; the company is the support crew. Employees set their direction and define their speed; we provide curriculum, coaching, time, pay, and availability. They own their future; we help them get there.”

"Employees set their direction and define their speed; we provide curriculum, coaching, time, pay, and availability. They own their future; we help them get there." Prudence Sullivan, director of continuous learning and organizational effectiveness, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

The Community College of Vermont Career Readiness Certificate Program

In December 2008, the Vermont Department of Labor and the Vermont Department of Economic Development teamed with the Community College of Vermont (CCV) system to start a program based on employer surveys to help unemployed and underemployed Vermonters develop or enhance their basic workplace skills. The program was made available at all CCV campuses free of charge. Six modules are included in this 10-week program that meets twice each week for three to four hours per session. Each module is a short course of study. The first three modules pertain to preparation for and successful completion of WorkKeys assessments; the remaining modules cover interpersonal workplace skills and technical skills that Vermont employers have identified as important. The six modules are:

  • Applied Mathematics
  • Reading for Information
  • Locating Information
  • Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills
  • Work Ethic, Learning & Life Skills
  • Basic Computer Skills

Those who successfully complete all six modules earn a CCV Career Readiness Certificate; those who score a level 3 or higher on the three WorkKeys assessments also earn a National Career Readiness Certificate.

As the state rolled out the program at CCV campuses, employers were invited to offer the program on-site to current employees interested in building their skills. GMCR jumped at the opportunity to add this to its already extensive “Continuous Learning” course catalog that lists nearly 140 training opportunities for employees. The catalog describes the 60-hour Career Readiness commitment as “designed to build and improve your basic workplace skills, enhance your ability to advance in your job, and raise your confidence in meeting your career goals.”

"I saw the program as a perfect fit for establishing consistency in skills and skill levels for the same positions across all our sites," says Sullivan. "And to have something that is a national certification, that is recognized and valued equally across the nation, is just so much more powerful than a certificate of course completion or even a diploma."

The Career Readiness Program at GMCR

When employees register for the course, they take a pre-assessment to see if they are ready to begin the program. A basic education coach is assigned to work one-on-one with those who need some skill building before the course begins.

Two 10-week sessions at GMCR’s Waterbury plant have been completed, and a third is scheduled. A total of 28 employees have earned a CCV Career Readiness Certificate, and all 28 also qualified for at least a Bronze-level National Career Readiness Certificate. In keeping with the company’s training philosophy, the attendees “self select” this training opportunity. Sullivan reports that many employees come in on their day off or stay late for classes to avoid leaving their shift short of help. “They are committed to developing their skills and want to earn a certificate. They see it as proof of competency.”

Feedback from the Graduates

“They seem to project more confidence,” says Sullivan. “It is a rigorous curriculum. They feel a sense of accomplishment, in part because it was not easy. They have a sense of pride when they get their certificates because they had to work for them.”

The modules covering teamwork, interpersonal skills, work ethic, learning, and life skills may be considered “soft skills” to some, according to Sullivan. “But I see them as professional skills that are useful on the job and in life. There is nothing soft or easy about developing these proficiencies, and the benefits can be significant for the individual, the team, and the company.”

GMCR reports that there have been some additional benefits, including the aspect of “teaming across disciplines.” Sullivan says that class attendees tend to build long-term relationships with fellow classmates from diverse areas of the company—people they may never have interacted with otherwise. That has benefits to the organization beyond the individual skill building the course is designed to accomplish.

Job Analysis at GMCR

A total of eight job profiles have been completed to date. Four of those are tiers of the important maintenance technician role. Sullivan plans to integrate a fourth WorkKeys assessment, Applied Technology, into the certification program for the four tiers of that position. CCV now has an ACT-authorized WorkKeys profiler on staff to make it easier for GMCR and other Vermont employers to conduct detailed task analyses of specific positions.

Next Steps

The Essex, Vermont, plant will have its own on-site Career Readiness course this summer, and Sullivan foresees replicating the course in 2010 to GMCR locations in Toronto, Canada; Sumner, Washington; and Knoxville, Tennessee. She also intends to offer the course to employees for whom English is a second language.

“Goal setting will be so much easier, both for the employees and for the management team, when we know where individuals are today and what they need to do to get to where they want to be tomorrow.” Prudence Sullivan, director of continuous learning and organizational effectiveness, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

Sullivan envisions a time when the company will have job profiles for both exempt and nonexempt positions and when the catalog of courses offered to employees will be linked to the career pathways that emerge from the profiling process. “I see a day when it will be clear to employees precisely what skills they will need to develop to be successful for any position along their chosen career paths. They will know exactly what they need to do to progress.

“Each certification earned will become part of the employee’s portfolio of competencies,” she continues. “Goal setting will be so much easier, both for the employees and for the management team, when we know where individuals are today and what they need to do to get to where they want to be tomorrow.”

In Sullivan’s eyes, it would be ideal to build, assess, and credential these foundational and professional skills with a National Career Readiness Certificate before an applicant walks in GMCR’s door for an interview. She would like to see each state’s workforce development offices and community colleges take care of this for employers already in Vermont and prospective employers thinking of creating jobs in that state. “It’s unfortunate that employers spend a significant portion of their limited training dollars building skills that should be present and documented in advance. I’d love to spend more training dollars developing specialty curricula pertaining to advancing employees along their job-specific and industry-specific career path—skills that would be a differentiating factor for GMCR and give us a further competitive edge as we continue to grow.”

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