By Deb Boucher Stetson

With many companies struggling to find and retain qualified employees, one local firm has found an emphasis on training can make a difference. Shepley Wood Products, based in Hyannis, is working on its third workforce training grant, has hosted popular “roadshow” contractor training sessions and has developed a dedicated training department to coordinate ongoing programs for its employees.

Tony Shepley, founder and CEO of the company that this year marked its 40th anniversary, is proud of its emphasis on training, and believes it gives Shepley an advantage. “Our training programs allow us to hire for passion and personality, not exclusively experience,” Shepley said, adding. “With new generations entering the workforce, and new products and technologies always on the forefront, education is the key to connecting everyone and advancing into the future. We live in a tremendous era of change and it’s our job to keep up with that change.”

Following a series of employee surveys and “listening tours” in 2015, Shepley identified employee training as an area with room for improvement. To demonstrate and facilitate its commitment, the company hired a full-time training manager to create learning opportunities geared specifically to its employees. As part of that effort, Shepley secured a Workforce Training Grant through Cape Cod Community College’s Center for Corporate and Professional Education. Shepley Training Manager Kristi Caines worked with the college to develop a comprehensive two-year training program to boost employee skills in six key areas: communication, managing change/ succession planning, building effective teams, process improvement, leadership development and enriching the sales experience.

This was actually the third Workforce Training Grant for Shepley, which in 2001 secured a grant for employee training in computer keyboarding, boom truck use, customer excellence and management. In 2008, the company got another Workforce Training Grant that it used for customer service and sales training.

“One of Shepley’s highest goals has always been to provide a work environment which supports employee growth,” Shepley said. “We do this by consistently strengthening our learning and development programs. This current training grant is a proactive approach to our investment in all workers as we prepare for growth and expansion both within the company and in the community. Succession planning and leadership training are imperative to achieving the long-term company goals as we see some of our seasoned employees reaching retirement age. Additionally, the grant has allowed us to identify high potential employees and place them in leadership training in preparation for role advancement.”

Shepley said the company is grateful to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for funding the training grants, which represent an investment in the community. “We are building full-time, year-round jobs with great benefits in what used to be a seasonal economy,” he said, Feature Story and now has “a bright future.”

Shepley General Manager Tom Dennison believes training programs “are essential for retention, advancement and personal growth. We are giving our leaders the tools that they need to lead,” he said. When employees have adequate training, Shepley said, they not only perform better, they take more satisfaction in being a part of a successful team. “We want our people to grow and prosper with us, increase their earning ability and their job satisfaction. Giving our employees the tools and seeing them accomplish things they never thought possible is one of our greatest sources of satisfaction.”

Dennison explains that the company’s training programs combine “hard skills,” such as product knowledge and operational elements, with “soft skills,” including conflict resolution, personality types and working with others. “We train about diversity. We work on communication skills. We work on opening people up to community involvement,” he said. “We try to show that a balance of intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence is key to overall success and we want to help our people develop that balance.”

Expanding on that “soft skill” side, Shepley said, “We are also focusing on emotional intelligence training so everyone has the opportunity to be the best that they can be in all aspects of their lives.”

As part of its ongoing training efforts, Shepley’s training department schedules weekly seminars for all employees to enhance their product and procedural knowledge. All new employees receive a full-day orientation followed by a six-week on-boarding plan and a monthlong boot camp that features cross-training in every department. The company utilizes an online learning management system that Caines said is especially helpful for employees in remote locations, such as the company’s Wellfleet and Nantucket locations.

“Shepley has always assumed a culture of education and learning, with weekly scheduled Shepley University sessions that employees can count on and look forward to,” Caines said. “This expectation of training shows team members that Shepley is invested in both their professional development and their personal progress.”

She said the company strives to make training programs easy to access. For example, training sessions are offered throughout the day so employees can choose the time that works best for them. And because “One size does not fit all,” training is tailored to fit the needs of various teams, she said, which employees appreciate. “Teams are excited when their ideas are heard and training is directly relevant to their positions. Additionally, when employees can take the training and apply it to their personal lives, both at home and in the community, it is definitely a win-win.”

In addition to educating it own employees, Shepley offers continuing education for building professionals, hosting sessions in which architects can earn continuing education credits and working with suppliers, manufacturers and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod to offer events that help contractors earn required credits and safety certifications.

One especially popular—and fun—highlight has been the KATZ Roadshow, which Shepley has been selected twice to host, most recently in this fall. With host locations nominated by show sponsors and chosen selectively by region, KATZ Roadshow events are facilitated by industry experts who get behind the science of construction and share invaluable tips. Shepley’s first show, hosted in 2016, focused on finish carpentry. Its most recent, on Sept. 12, demonstrated techniques for installing windows, doors and decking. Participating were 114 contractors, who not only enjoyed the day but earned continuing education credits toward renewal of the Construction Supervisors License.

Shepley said he was impressed with KATZ Road Show presenter Mike Sloggatt, who “stimulated the audience and got great questions going.” The positive impression was mutual: “Mike came away very impressed by the quality of our attendees and said that although they do some 45 shows per year, this was one of the very best they have had the pleasure of putting on. We are truly blessed to have the level of craftsmanship that we see here on the Cape and Islands,”

Shepley said. “It’s inspiring to see experience, highly skilled tradespeople still enthusiastic about learning and developing their craft.” At Shepley, that kind of enthusiasm is nurtured in employees. As Caines put it, “Ultimately, when employees are given the tools to succeed, they have the ability to advance, which in turn strengthens our company’s performance and leads to overall community health. At Shepley,” she concluded, “learning and development is not an option; it is a way of life.