Lippert University: Rethinking talent sourcing and development through education
In 2022, Lippert, a multi-billion-dollar component manufacturer for RVs, boats, automobiles and adjacent industry suppliers, realized it could not meet its workforce needs with traditional recruiting efforts alone.
There simply weren’t enough qualified external workers to fill the company’s increased needs driven by growth, demand, automation and process improvements. As a result, Lippert developed an innovative program to create an internal pipeline of talent by upskilling high-performing team members who were hungry for more opportunities.
“We had exhausted the talent in the counties where we operate,” said Matthew Jerlecki, Lippert’s Director of Learning. “We decided to turn inward and say, ‘We have a lot of smart and talented people who want to do more … How do we support them? How do we create learning opportunities for them?’” The answer was Lippert University.
Lippert University is not a traditional corporate training program, offering basic educational programming like tuition reimbursement or on-site classes. Lippert has those, too. Instead, it is a unique program founded on a flexible partnership with local colleges that helps the company meet its workforce needs while simultaneously creating incredible growth opportunities for existing team members. Those opportunities include learning new skills that will allow them to operate new machines and equipment, acquiring certifications for new roles and promotions – ranging from advanced manufacturing positions, jobs within quality, LEAN, human resource and supply chain positions – and even more personal learning opportunities, such as classes to learn a new language and obtain a High School Diploma.
Challenges and Solutions
Appreciating that a traditional college course schedule is difficult, if not impossible, for working team members to manage, Ivy Tech adapted its course offerings to meet the needs of Lippert team members.
In Indiana, the foundation of Lippert University is a strong partnership with Ivy Tech Community College. Appreciating that a traditional college course schedule is difficult, if not impossible, for working team members to manage, Ivy Tech adapted its course offerings to meet the needs of Lippert team members. Admitted team members typically attend classes from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, aka “Lippert Wednesdays.” Courses that typically run for 16 weeks are condensed into longer midday classes over eight weeks (about two months) allowing team members to make the most of their time away from work. Because the classes are offered during the workday, team members are not faced with common obstacles to continuing education such as childcare. This partnership not only benefits Lippert’s workforce but also enhances Ivy Tech’s program reach and attracts new students.
Lippert University also offers approved apprenticeship programs. Because each class includes 50 hours of required coursework, team members who take three classes can qualify as United States Department of Labor apprentices, allowing the company to offset the cost of the program with state and local grant funding. Whereas the company has traditionally had one or two apprentices, it now has over 50 working in its northern Indiana operations.
Although team members are not paid for the time they’re away from work, the courses are free to them. The cost of Lippert University is offset by grants from LIFT, WorkOne and the Next Level Workforce Ready Grant Program. This financial strategy not only sustains the program but also offsets expenses through reduced hiring and training costs attributed to enhanced employee retention. Remarkably, 97% of Lippert University graduates choose to remain with the company, underscoring the program’s positive impact on retention rates.
The program has been a resounding success, attracting long-time team members, repeat participants and people who have never taken a post-secondary class.
One team member was excited simply by the notion of being a college student. “Do I get a student ID?” he asked. “Team members are going back to the plant saying, ‘You’re missing out if you don’t take advantage of this,’” Jerlecki said.
Beyond its expected outcomes, Lippert University has yielded unforeseen advantages. The eight-week course format introduced by the program has gained popularity and inspired other course offerings. Furthermore, the program has extended its benefits to non-Lippert students, fostering a broader learning community in the region. Additionally, other employers have expressed interest in sending their employees to Lippert University courses, indicative of the program’s broader relevance.
Lippert University stands as a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration in the workforce development space. The successful partnership with Ivy Tech Community College demonstrates the potential for mutually beneficial collaborations in addressing industry challenges. As Lippert University continues to thrive, it exemplifies a model for addressing workforce shortages and evolving workplace needs in the manufacturing sector.
“It is a win all the way around,” Jerlecki said. “The wins just keep on coming.”