Developing Skilled Employees in an Unskilled Workforce

ACME Environmental Solutions on the tropical island of Roatan puts an emphasis on education and opportunity.
Developing Skilled Employees in an Unskilled Workforce
Workers from ACME Environmental Solutions install wastewater collection pipes in the community of Santa Maria on the island of Roatan.

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Good, experienced employees are hard to find. That is especially true on the tropical island of Roatan, part of the Bay Islands that lie 40 miles from the north coast of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. This is the place where, a dozen years ago, Dan Taylor started what has grown into ACME Environmental Solutions.

There’s plenty of labor on Roatan, but it is unskilled labor. High school diplomas are rare, and the number of people with education beyond high school can be measured with fractions of a percentage point. Even driver’s licenses are not common. Instead, every day an ACME flatbed truck fitted with seats arrives at appointed spots to pick up workers, takes them to their jobs for the day and then takes them back in the afternoon. 

If Taylor wants a skilled workforce, he has to build it. On the wall of his office is a whiteboard with a list of employees, their current skills, a description of how the managers believe they can progress in the company for the next few years, and the skills they will need to make that progress.

A significant part of finding the right people is observing them. The worker who is curious about how a process works or who shows an aptitude for mechanical things is offered the training that can turn him from a laborer into a technician, and from a technician to an operator. That includes driver’s licenses. ACME has a training program to get more employees licensed.

Part of inspiring and retaining people means compensating them properly.

“Pay is the last reason to lose an employee. We won’t lose somebody because of salary. We have way too much invested in getting them qualified to take care of our customers,” Taylor says. 

There is one other important piece in the process of developing a quality workforce, and that is the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show. “That isn’t just important. That’s really critical for us. That’s how we get our training,” Taylor says. 

Every year he brings a member of his key staff to the show. His young engineers take classes to acquire the technical knowledge that engineering schools don’t teach. His business manager has benefitted immensely from the business track at the WWETT Show, as well as informal conversations, talking to people from other places and learning about the problems they faced and the solutions they applied.

ACME subscribes to Cleaner, Pumper, Onsite Installer and most of the other magazines produced by COLE Publishing. Taylor reads every issue from cover to cover, takes the magazines apart, and passes the articles to his workers to read and discuss.

“The internet provides a ton of information, and we purchase online training courses when we can,” he says, “but the printed page can still link our people who need to know technical specifics with a larger world of knowledge beyond the sea.”

Where is Roatan?


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