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Watchfire Signs: The Power of Employer Branding

By: John Rossheim 

Watchfire Signs, a Danville, Ill., firm that manufactures LED billboards and other outdoor signs, employs a full complement of talent strategies to meet the challenges of sourcing, recruiting and retaining its technical and professional employees.

Attracting Fresh Talent
“The challenge is that in our area, there are far more positions than qualified people.” So says AnnMarie Cross, director of human resources at the 350-person company. “We struggle for electronics and IT technicians, software engineers, and less so, machine operators.” 

Local educational institutions turn out to be a great starting point for Watchfire’s recruitment efforts. “Companies actually fight for grads of community colleges,” says Cross. “So we look for their electronics technology and IT grads, but we’ve also found success with people who have earned a degree in automotive or other technologies.”

To lure fresh talent, Watchfire hires an average of 25 interns per year at $10 to $15 per hour, bringing in promising young people in the summer after high school as well as college students. 

In Watchfire’s co-op program, college students work at the company for a summer plus one academic term. About 40 percent of successful interns are hired full-time within a year of graduation, the company says. And approximately 60 percent of those hires are still with the company three years later.

The Power of Employer Branding 
A substantial local footprint is a key element of Watchfire’s employer brand. “We do a lot to raise our visibility in the community,” such as giving to local causes and appearing at events, Cross says. “After we get new hires in the door, we get them talking to other potential candidates in the community.”

Watchfire also puts word of mouth to work on a one-to-one basis; employee referrals account for almost one-third of hires. “We try to make it as easy as possible for our employees,” says Cross. The referring employee supplies the company with basic information about the person and their skills; they are rewarded with $250 to $1000 per position filled.

Most workers don’t want to stay put forever, so Watchfire offers them places to go — within the company. “For our manufacturing and production areas, each machine operator is trained on every machine,” Cross says. 

More than a third of Watchfire’s job openings are filled by internal candidates. The company also offers tuition reimbursement up to the federal tax-free maximum of $5,250 per year, with no cap on how many years employees can use the program.

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