For a few weeks in September and October, it would have been difficult to drive by the Target store in Winona without seeing the larger-than-life — literally — smiling faces of a handful of Alliant Castings employees.

Alliant Castings, a foundry with roots dating back to 1885, rented space on an electronic billboard to herald some of the company’s recent achievements, one of which was the implementation of an employee training program called Iron University.

“Celebrating a year of hard work and dedication creating the new Iron Univ Foundry Apprenticeship Program,” the billboard read, “with help from Enterprise Minnesota.”

Iron University is a program the company implemented with help from Enterprise Minnesota Business Growth Consultant Abbey Hellickson. In an article published in the 2020 spring issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine, Alliant Castings President Tom Renk called Iron University an educational and enrichment program aimed at producing not just better employees, but better people as well.

The billboard campaign was the brainchild of Alliant Castings Accounting Manager Julie Tenner.

“This is something new I just brought to the table here,” she says, “to kind of put a good image out there of our company.”

Abbey Hellickson, Enterprise Minnesota
Talent and leadership expert Abbey Hellickson

The idea’s genesis was twofold. Part of it was to recognize the Iron University program and the role Enterprise Minnesota played in getting it done. The other part was to try and drive potential employees to fill out job applications; like most manufacturers, Alliant has vacant positions it needs to fill. So, advertising agency Lamar created two billboard designs — one featuring Iron University and the other appealing to potential employees.

Tenner says it’s too soon to tell how well the recruiting billboard is doing, but it’s never a bad time to celebrate your employees and their hard work. Iron University is an example of an investment in the company that will pay off big-time down the road.

When asked to evaluate the Iron University program’s financial impact over the next three years, Renk estimated an impact of $1.5 million in new and retained sales; $250,000 in cost savings; and an investment of $100,000 in workforce practices and employee skills.

How’d they get there?

Hellickson and Enterprise Minnesota Business Growth Consultant Greg Langfield assessed Alliant’s company leaders, managers, and lead workers, taking into account competencies needed by each to ensure the company’s success. They also assessed each employee’s tasks and duties. With that information, they created training content aimed at producing the best work performance, whether it’s from an entry-level worker or a seasoned veteran. They’ve created visible career pathways across the organization and built content so employees, if they choose, can train on-site and advance within the company.

Hellickson says this enrichment and education effort at Alliant Castings is innovative.

“For the foundry industry and for the size of their organization, it’s extremely unique,” she says. “Tom values growth, and he really values elevating his employees to be their best here and at home. So, there’s a foundation to this Iron U that’s really all about just being better people.”

Says Renk, “Iron University’s curriculum, created with Enterprise Minnesota’s guidance, provides the structure to enrich and develop our people. Development of our people, through IU, will give us the ‘secret sauce’ for future success.”

Featured story in the Winter 2020 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine. 

Return to Winter 2020 magazine