Osborne Wood Products Crafts a Skilled Workforce with WorkKeys® Assessments and Certification

The Organization:

Osborne Wood Products, Inc.
Toccoa, Georgia

The Challenge:

Find a way to apply lean manufacturing principles to the hiring process to:

  • Eliminate wasted time
  • Help ensure hiring the right team members

The Solution:

  • Require assessments of all external applicants: no workplace certification, no interview

The Results:

  • A streamlined hiring process, minimizing time and cost
  • Greater confidence that applicants possess needed skills
  • A better idea of what training will be needed for new team members
  • Improved teamwork with existing employees

Company Overview

Founded in 1979, Osborne Wood Products is a family-owned company in northeast Georgia, 90 miles from Atlanta and two miles from the South Carolina border. The 28-employee firm offers quality wood products including kitchen island legs, table legs, architectural columns, cabinet and crown moldings, corbels, and decorative finials and appliqués in a variety of sizes, styles, and wood types. It offers an extensive catalog of stock items and also designs and crafts custom orders.

Then and Now

“Our company has changed a lot in the last 10 years,” said Leon Osborne, chief executive officer of Osborne Wood Products. “Sometimes I feel like it has changed a lot in the last 10 months and even the last 10 weeks.”

The major reason: advances in technology. He reports that 10 years ago, it would take 40 minutes to set up a lathe; today, it takes less than four. Ten years ago, the company was only exploring the power of the Internet; today, nearly half its orders are received via the Web. Ten years ago, an accurate inventory count was available only at month- or quarter-end; today, employees scan bar codes on every item in a continuous inventory program that provides accurate inventory counts immediately. In the past, a new employee could be trained to be a craftsman; today, that craftsman must have computer skills to operate the advanced equipment used in nearly every job in the company. Osborne adds, “Hiring people with high math, computer, and language skills is essential today, while 10 years ago the requirements were not as demanding.”

We have moved from a system that was unfair to most everyone to one that is objective and impartial to job seekers, employees, and employers. This certification process is one of the most significant advances in hiring I’ve ever seen. Leon Osborne, chief executive officer, Osborne Wood Products

As the work became more complex, hiring the right people became a bigger challenge. Osborne shares this example: “Two years ago, we had an opening for an administrative assistant. We posted the position and had 110 applicants. It took hours and hours of labor-intensive work to sort through the applications. Some we could not take seriously because they omitted key information like a phone number. Others we eliminated because their work experience wasn’t a good fit. Still others were not considered because we couldn’t get reference information from previous employers. And in the end, we still weren’t sure we picked the right individual because we really didn’t know what skills they had. The system was archaic and grossly unfair to all those involved.” Something had to change.

Enter Georgia Work Ready

Georgia Work Ready was launched in August 2006 by Governor Sonny Perdue and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to improve the job training and marketability of Georgia’s workforce and drive future economic growth for the state. The program is intended to ensure that companies can more reliably match the right people with the right jobs. By identifying both the needs of business and the available skills of Georgia’s workforce, the state can more effectively generate the right talent for the right jobs. Georgia certificates are authorized by ACT—each is assigned a number that can be verified on ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate website.

Work Ready and Osborne Wood

Osborne says that at first, they were worried about implementing the program. “We thought it was going to be a major task. But as we learned more about the testing facilities in Georgia and the support that the state, county, area technical colleges, and the Chamber of Commerce were providing, we found that all we had to do was set our own rules. And the rule at Osborne Wood is simple: no certificate—no need to apply.”

Osborne continues, “Once that was in place, everyone was on the road to success. Applicants scheduled their testing, took the assessments, and brought their certificate to us. We no longer have to deal with stacks of applications. The 300 hours we spent hiring the administrative assistant two years ago takes us maybe 30 to 40 hours tops. That’s 10 percent of the time we were spending. Now we have a much better idea of what we’re getting when they join the team, and our existing employees know that the new team member will be equipped to learn quickly and contribute right away.”

Osborne believes that by hiring the right people for each position, the company has a much better chance to build teams who will work together and who can think through how to do something better. “If you have employees who are either overqualified or underqualified, they simply are not satisfied with what they are able to accomplish at the end of the day. With this program, we’re able to place the right person in the right job.”

Another benefit pertains to training new employees. Because the company has a valid measure of the skill strengths of each new employee as they come on board, they have a good idea of the training that may be needed. That improves internal planning and helps keeps training costs low.

Lean Manufacturing at Osborne Wood

When Osborne Wood executives decided to implement lean manufacturing principles, they hired a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certified manager, Robert Ward. Before joining Osborne Wood, Ward had been a victim of the economic downturn in South Carolina. He lost his position at a large manufacturer but used the time to pursue his Lean Six Sigma Certification. First he had to earn a South Carolina Work Ready Certificate based on the same three WorkKeys assessments as the Georgia program. He quickly recognized the value to both job seekers and to employers and was pleased that Osborne Wood would soon begin implementing the WorkKeys-based certification standard.

“We’ve been able to hire some very good people,” Ward said. “In a time of high unemployment, certification allows us to ‘weed out’ the people that really aren’t committed, who aren’t dedicated to putting in what it takes to give 100 percent. Job seekers who really want a job are willing to go through WorkKeys testing, and they will do whatever it takes to be successful.”

Sal Monge, a lathe operator hired through the certification program, put it this way: “The testing helps identify people with good math skills, good communication skills, people who need to locate information, skills like that. The assessments give the employer a better idea of how well a possible employee may do on the job.”

Ward says that teamwork has improved with a certified workforce. “Without teamwork, you are just fighting against each other, and we don’t have that here. I see greater productivity and a willingness to work together. I see employees who are able to understand and appreciate the metrics we base our decisions on under lean manufacturing principles. I also see the math and reading skills that simply reduce error. That contributes to something we call ‘Right First Time.’ If you make it right the first time, you don’t have to come back and make it again. So you eliminate waste, and lean is all about eliminating waste.”

Osborne adds, “As a lean manufacturing company, we are interested in applying lean principles to every part of our business. Until this program came along, we hadn’t been able to figure out how to ‘lean down’ our hiring process. Now we have the answer. Any time we can eliminate wasted time, we’re eliminating waste. Now we have a hiring process that is more effective than we dreamed possible.”

If you have employees who are either overqualified or underqualified, they simply are not satisfied with what they are able to accomplish at the end of the day. With this program, we’re able to place the right person in the right job. Leon Osborne, chief executive officer, Osborne Wood Products

Financial Impact

Training new employees is a significant investment. Ward recalls working for major companies that had 20, 30, even 40 percent turnover a year. “That’s a killer to your bottom line. You are constantly hiring people, training people, and just when you get them to a point where they can be productive, you lose them. We just don’t have that here at Osborne Wood.”

Osborne reports that the company is now able to ship 75 percent of stock orders the same day. Make-to-order custom shipments were taking 21 days to fill only five years ago; today, most are filled in 48 hours. The company grew 14 percent in the last year in an economy where demand for its products has contracted significantly given the slowdown in new construction and home remodeling.

A Solid Foundation

“We have moved from a system that was unfair to most everyone to one that is objective and impartial to job seekers, employees, and employers. This certification process is one of the most significant advances in hiring I’ve ever seen,” said Osborne.

Osborne believes the community has benefited as well. “As a result of worker certification, our community has shown promise for future industry in our area. We have become a community where qualified people can find good jobs using fair and objective hiring practices. As for Osborne Wood Products, we have found an effective tool to locate the best applicants and bring them into full employment seamlessly.”