We weren’t there the day the employees were encouraged to wear inline skates and glide through the halls at Acuity, this month’s cover story. Nor were we there when they brought in the mechanical bull, or the time when everybody had the chance to have their picture taken for a Wheaties box.
But we did see a lot of people working in comfortable spaces with tall beams, bright sculptures and a flood of natural lighting. We were treated to chocolates in the box that came with last year’s annual report. And at the end of the tour, we had the chance to enter the torture chamber.
Torture chamber? Let me just say it’s not the place employees go if they refuse to agree that the culture at Acuity is top notch – as a slew of national awards for the company attests over the past six years. It’s rather a whimsically-appointed room filled with replicas of medieval torture devices that CEO Ben Salzmann has gathered on his travels. Visitors to Acuity typically end their tour here, where they are invited to choose from a stash of company branded items like polo shirts and laptop cases. Salzmann was sporting enough to allow us to photograph him in head and wrist clamps, a look of mock horror on his face. (He would not be photographed wearing in-line skates – it seems one too many employees found themselves injured after that day of fun.)
Seriously, Acuity is doing something right. The company’s sales premium increased 8.1 percent in 2011 and it’s more profitable than the industry as a whole.
And it’s hiring. Acuity is among several insurance companies in the New North region employing hundreds of workers. It’s among a handful of growing industries in the region in which institutions of higher education have recognized a need to offer training. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has launched an insurance major inside its College of Business, for example, and courses focus on risk management and preparation for various certifications.
Our story “Prepping for a profession” on page 29, addresses, among other fields of study, the booming need for engineers in Northeast Wisconsin. “Engineering demand is through the roof,” says Jeff Sachse, regional economist for Northeast Wisconsin with the state Department of Workforce Development. To meet this demand, several colleges, universities and technical colleges have partnered to offer engineering degree programs throughout the region.
Other hot industries for employment here include computer science, information technology in health care, and bioinformatics (the analysis of biochemical and biological data using mathematics and computer science, as in the study of genomes). As baby boomers begin retiring, another growing field for employment will be education. While it’s still a tight job market all around, new college graduate hiring is actually up more than 10 percent nationally this year.
What will employers look for? In our story, “Cream of the crop,” on page 32, we talk to several business leaders about their wish list for today’s college graduates. Not surprisingly, attitude, the ability to communicate well and a dose of humility (versus a sense of entitlement) are among characteristics high on their lists. But they’re also looking for people with global awareness, technical expertise, an understanding of how business works and leadership skills.
Preparing for the future calls for innovation, as well. Whether you attended or missed our Technology & Human Innovation Networking Conference in late May, I encourage you to check out the videos of our THINC! talks on our website. Told in 15-minute “bursts” of dynamic presentations by leading innovators in the New North, you’re sure to find nuggets of great ideas you can apply to your own business.
You will also want to see the video introducing New North’s Fast Forward 1.0 program for helping to take great business ideas to capitalization. For a behind-the-scenes story of how the video came to together, turn to page 10. To see this and the THINC! talk videos, visit our website at www.insightonbusiness.com and click on the link.