New complex presents recruiting opportunity for Johnson Controls
When 24-year-old Maccrae Monteith graduated from Grove City College in Mercer County, his career could have taken him anywhere. He ultimately landed at Johnson Controls in York County.
After he was hired, Monteith said, he rotated among Johnson Controls’ engineering departments as part of a program for new employees.
“I wasn’t sure about my career path, so the opportunity to explore different paths … was valuable,” he said.
After his rotations were complete, Monteith ended up in the design engineering department as a research and development engineer, stationed at the company’s 60-plus-year-old facility on South Richland Avenue in Spring Garden Township.
Knowing that a new complex was rising 15 miles to the south was a pleasant bonus, Monteith said.
For Johnson Controls, a maker of batteries, HVAC and refrigeration equipment and other products, the new complex is more than a bonus.
Completed this year off Interstate 83 in Hopewell Township, the two-building complex offers a powerful recruiting tool at a time when manufacturers are struggling to find skilled people. And it may contribute to shattering long-held stereotypes of manufacturing as a gloomy and grimy field.
An outdated perception of manufacturing is an issue facing all manufacturers, said John W. Lloyd, president and CEO of nonprofit consulting firm Mantec, which works with manufacturers throughout Central Pennsylvania.
“The image lingers of the manufacturing workplace as being dark, dirty, dingy and dangerous,” he said. “In actuality, 21st century manufacturing is sophisticated and there are many highly paid, challenging jobs available.”
Lloyd noted that while the age of a building has little do with the work being performed, it may fuel misperceptions of what is going on inside.
A new building can change those perceptions.
“Having a facility conducive to a strong culture can be a differentiator when competing for talent,” Lloyd said.
Manufacturers, including Johnson Controls, also have begun to invest in developing the future workforce through apprenticeship and mentorship programs, job shadowing, factory tours and other ways to expose potential workers to careers in manufacturing.
“Manufacturers are … now locked in a race to lure in tech-savvy talent—or upskill existing workers — to harness the new manufacturing technology,” said Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute, which studies issues facing the industry.
Creating comfortable collaboration
The South Richland Avenue building where Monteith started was erected in the 1950s as a home for the former York International, which was purchased by Johnson Controls in 2005.
Did you know ...
Johnson Controls has four hemi-anechoic rooms to measure the acoustic performance of its chillers?
Don’t know what hemi-anechoic means? Chill out.
Anechoic means free from echoes. Hemi means half. A hemi-anechoic chamber is a room insulated on all sides, except for the floor, with sound-absorbent materials, meaning it has half the insulation of a fully anechoic chamber. Most hemi-anechoic chambers have insulated ceilings.
The four rooms allow workers at the Johnson Controls Advanced Development and Engineering Center, or JADEC, to measure the acoustic performance of air-cooled and water-cooled chillers ensuring they run on the frequencies specified by its clients.
The rooms are part of a 250,000 square-feet testing facility that houses more than 20 labs overall, including a reverberation chamber to measure the sound of air handlers.
Based in Ireland, Johnson Controls employs 120,000 people around the world and had revenue of $30.1 billion in 2017. Its operations in York County design, engineer and test chillers.
The demand for access to newer technology as well as the need for more space contributed to the decision to build the complex in Hopewell Township, known as the Johnson Controls Advanced Development and Engineering Center, or JADEC. A three-story, 107,000 square-foot office building opened last year while a 250,000 square-foot testing lab opened in April.
Nearly 500 employees have since relocated from Johnson Controls’ Spring Garden Township facility. The company is maintaining around 250 positions at the Richland Avenue property with personnel in engineering, product management and such work as top-secret projects with Johnson’s U.S. Navy business, said Laura Wand, vice president and general manager of global chiller products, building technologies and solutions for Johnson Controls.
In addition to giving the company more space, the new complex offered an opportunity to establish a different kind of workplace culture, one that could attract the next generation of workers, Wand said.
On the inside
As they enter the engineering office building, past the welcome desk, visitors and employees are greeted by a display of company patents and chiller innovations.
On the first floor is the company’s cafeteria, The Chill. Like other corporate cafeterias, there are places to sit and a diverse menu. What sets Johnson Controls’ cafeteria apart, though, is that each area can be transformed into an impromptu meeting space.
“All of the tables are powered, so people can set up their laptops and work from here if they’d like,” said Brian Smith, director of global marketing at Johnson Controls, noting that many of the tabletops also can support projectors. “There’s all kind of different settings for meeting spaces.”
The open and casual spaces are meant to inspire creativity and attract talent like the environment at Google, often rated as one of the top companies to work for, Smith said.
On the way to their offices, employees pass various seating arrangements in open areas as well as conference rooms. Outside each room is a touch-screen monitor letting people know if the room is occupied and for how long.
Even the cubicles were created with purpose. Though individual workspaces are divided, the lowered height of the cubicle walls makes it easier for coworkers to communicate.
“All I have to do is lift my head if I want to talk to someone,” Monteith said. “I think it also breaks down the mental barriers that exist with closed doors. There’s no ‘should I talk to him?’ He’s right there.”
In fact, Smith says there are only two offices in the entire administrative building. Otherwise, managers are on the floor with their teams. When he worked in an office, Smith said he felt pretty isolated from his previous team. The nature of the new space forces a culture of transparency, he said.
“Communication has opened up quite a bit,” Smith said.
More and more employers are being intentional when it comes to understanding the behavior and habits of their workers, said Kedren Crosby, founder of Work Wisdom LLC, an organizational behavior practice in Lancaster.
Crosby said organizations also are taking their core values and weaving them into best practices and, in some cases, their design. Johnson Controls, for example, advocates honesty and integrity. Open spaces are among the elements that help reinforce those values.
Though Johnson Controls does not have a bowling alley or a volleyball court like Google, Johnson Controls does have areas referred to as “mosh pits” on each floor.
Like other spaces in the building, each mosh pit can serve as a place to work. Mosh pits, however, tend to be designated for downtime. Outfitted with comfy chairs, inspirational quotes, board games, and gaming consoles like Nintendo and X-Box, the mosh pits create an environment where it is okay to stop and take a break every now and then. Smith said the areas also tend to attract younger employees.
Understanding that its workforce is in transition, Smith said Johnson Controls has partnered with area institutions like York College to offer internships, apprenticeships and co-ops. Students are assigned buddies and mentors to guide them through their development in a particular program. Working alongside professionals, students take what they learn at their home institutions and apply it in real-world projects, such as working with insulators or on hardware on circuit boards.
“There’s only so much our teachers can teach us, so having the ability to step inside a company that’s doing what we’re learning gives us that real-world experience with a lot of resources [at our fingertips],” said 21-year-old Chase Bleacher, an electrical engineering student at York College who participates in one of Johnson Controls’ co-ops.