Menu of Benefits Helps Attract, Retain Workers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With national unemployment at its lowest rate since 2000, competition is fierce among companies to attract and retain talented employees.

“We’re all competing for talent right now,” says Michelle Gross, human resource director and part owner of The Zidian Group in Boardman. “Before, money was the biggest factor. But now the total benefits package is really what’s important to people. It weighs heavily on a person’s decision.”

According to a survey published in June by Randstad USA, 66% of workers agree that a strong benefits and perks package is the largest determining factor when considering job offers and 61% would be willing to accept a lower salary if a company offered a great benefits package.

Human resource directors say providing options for health-care plans are one of the most sought after benefits by employees and those being interviewed for a job.

“The workforce has changed and we have different generations in the workforce,” says Trina Rauscher-Cooper, vice president and human resources director for Vallourec USA Corp., parent of Vallourec Star. “You have baby boomers and millennials and everyone needs something different to support all the different generations of workforce in the operations now.”

Pipe and tube producer Vallourec Star employs around 700 in Youngstown, Rauscher-Cooper says, and with such a large workforce come many needs for health care.

“A baby boomer might want an enhanced medical plan because they go to the doctor more and are willing to pay more out of their paycheck, whereas millennials might not have to go to the doctor as much. So they might want a HSA [health savings account] or a high-deductible health plan,” she says. “Or one wants dental insurance and the other doesn’t. It’s a menu they have of different benefits to choose from.”

Vallourec, Compco and The Zidian Group all offer their employees three health-care plans to choose among with options for dental, vision, life insurance, short- and long-term disability. Employees also can purchase additional insurance and coverage, such as for critical illness or legal services.

Each company also has a 401(k) plan for its employees.

Compco offers an employer match on its 401(k) plan and the medical benefits are a company-employee split, says Meribeth Pantall-Noble, corporate human resources director. The manufacturer employs 357 across six sites.

“One of the biggest challenges has been keeping the benefits affordable because there were a lot of changes when the Affordable Care Act came through,” says Pantall-Noble. “A big challenge for us is making sure we offer good benefits, but then at a price that everyone can afford. We had to switch carriers to try to make it all work out.”

Instead of short-term and long-term disability being an elective benefit at The Zidian Group, Gross says the company pays for that coverage monthly, as well as for life insurance and counseling services should an employee, or his spouse or child, need to seek counseling.

“That has been well used by employees,” says Gross. “Say they hurt their knee and they need to have surgery. Then they know they at least get partial pay instead of no pay and it’s not something they’ve had to pay for themselves.”

The Zidian Group, which employs 155, produces and distributes food products under the Gia Russa and Guy Fieri brands and other private-label products, and imports items from Italy for distribution across the country. The company also owns the Aqua Pazzo restaurant next to its plants on McClurg Road in Boardman.

The Zidian Group completely matches its employees’ first 3% they put in for their health-care plans and then it tiers from there at a lower rate.

Another fringe benefit The Zidian Group offers is a discount for its employees on all the food products it produces and distributes.

“We felt it was important to invest in our employees and do as much as we could to give to the people,” Gross says. “It’s made a difference and everyone’s retirement plans have gone up and that’s what you want to see.”

At present, The Zidian Group, Compco and Vallourec are all hiring. To offer the best benefits, the HR directors say, they must monitor and stay ahead of what their competition offers.

One of the added benefits Vallourec offers that sets it apart are free wellness checkups and reimbursing gym memberships.

“We bring in doctors that do annual wellness checkups and they can give them immediate feedback and they get assistance and health coaching,” Rauscher-Cooper says.

Being versatile and flexible with employees’ vacation days and paid time off is another benefit that employees consider when deciding to remain or seek new employment.

Work environment is just as important as the benefits package, the human resource directors agree.

“We are a family-owned business. So ownership treats the team members as family,” says Tom Varley, human resources manager for Compco. “We’re very transparent and at any point in time, anybody can reach out to their supervisor all the way up to Rick Fryda, who’s our CEO, or Greg Smith, who’s our owner.”

Every month, Compco holds an “all-hands meeting” for its employees, where lunch is served and employees are briefed on what the company is doing.

“We have regular communications with everyone in the company, so it’s an open-door policy,” Varley adds.

Similarly, Vallourec keeps communications open by frequently handing out surveys to gather workers’ reaction on issues such as work-life balance. The company also has question-and-answer sessions where employees get updates on the business.

“In Youngstown, we have a little over a 4% turnover rate, which is nothing. It’s very low,” Rauscher-Cooper says. “We believe in open communication and engaging the workforce.”

Part of providing a good and enjoyable work environment is making employees feel valued by recognizing good performance with awards and giving back with holiday parties and special events.

Every year, The Zidian Group issues awards to long-time employees and those who have provided outstanding service and performance for the year.

In September, the company held an employee appreciation day at a park with a cookout and games, such as cornhole, volleyball and kickball. In November, it held a Thanksgiving potluck. It also holds a holiday party in December and a formal party in January.

“We are always doing small, fun things that make a difference because it’s about the environment just as much as the benefits,” Gross says. “When they get here, we want to make people feel like it’s a great place to work and it’s fun to be here.”

Every year, Compco holds a Christmas party for employees to bring their families, where their children can decorate cookies and sit on Santa Claus’ lap, as well as a summer golf outing and a picnic that welcomes employees’ families.

“We like to include family because we know they spend a lot of time here for us,” Pantall-Noble says. “So we want to make sure we do fun things outside of work where they get to bring their families as well.”

Offering continuing education at work is important for employees to feel as if they are still able to grow and learn more under the same company. Throughout the year, The Zidian Group sends its employees to seminars as part of each department’s budget for ongoing education.

“We must do a lot of training as a food manufacturer because we’re held to a very high standard,” Gross says. “We have to make sure everyone is educated and continues to learn because there are always changes in the food laws.”

Vallourec will reimburse its employees up to $8,000 per year for education related to their position.

Meanwhile, Compco is building an in-house training program, known as Compco University, to keep its employees’ skills sharp. The company uses in-house training and brings in outside trainers to help teach employees new skills based on their level.

“We don’t just want people to look at it as a job,” says Pantall-Noble. “We want them to look at it as a lasting career where they know they’re valued and they’re going to have opportunities to grow.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.