HOLT CAT exec leads charge to attract diverse workforce to industry under-represented by women

Published Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Holt Cat, like many companies in the heavy equipment industry, is having trouble finding workers — especially following the economic disruption wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its website lists 320 job openings across Texas and Oklahoma. Eighty of those are in the San Antonio area, including more than 30 for mechanics and other technicians needed to service the Caterpillar equipment that Holt Cat sells at its chain of dealerships.

Beki Hutchison, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, is leading efforts to draw more workers into its industry — particularly women, who historically have been underrepresented.

Part of her effort involves reaching out to future members of the workforce — in colleges, high schools and even middle schools — to educate them about the opportunities available. The company works with local and state governments to create educational curriculums, including through the city of San Antonio’s Ready to Work jobs training program. It also draws workers through internships and apprenticeships.

A big part of the strategy is to offer a strong benefits package and a positive workplace culture so workers will want to build careers there, Hutchison said.

"It’s a very comprehensive strategy, across multiple different layers of the talent pool, to get folks to come join us,” she said.

Corinna Holt Richter, the company’s president and chief administrative officer, is a director of Girls Inc. of San Antonio, an organization that assists girls and helps women advance in their careers. Through the organization, she’s conducted events to teach girls about the heavy equipment industry and familiarize them with its trucks and other equipment.

A native of San Antonio, Hutchison spent about 20 years working for aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman Corp. in Washington, D.C. She has a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University and a master’s in business administration from Virginia Tech.

She’s been with Holt Cat for 6½ years. The company, which has about 3,500 employees, underwent a generational change in leadership in 2017 when Richter and her brother, Peter J. Holt, took over control from their father. They now work side by side, with Holt serving as CEO.

"He runs, basically, the hands of the organization, so all of the operational units,” Hutchison said. "She runs kind of the heart of the organization, is kind of how I think of it. Any enterprise corporate office organization: your finance, legal, HR, strategy and marketing, those kinds of things.”

Hutchison recently sat to discuss Holt Cat’s workforce strategy, barriers that keep women from considering a career in the industry and the Holt siblings’ leadership styles. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: When you went to school, did you plan on this kind of career?

A: I did not. I was actually in school to become a teacher for kids with emotional disturbance and learning disabilities. But I interned for a year and decided that that was not the opportunity for me.

Q: When you came to work at Holt Cat, was there a desire to come back to your hometown?

A: Yes. I had been with Northrop for 20 years. There were multiple times where folks who were in their mid-50s, late 50s, would come into my office and say, "I have to go take care of my parents’ estate. They’ve passed away, and I haven’t been home for 20 years.” It impacted me in a way that forced me to reflect around what I wanted my own experience to be. My parents were visiting for Thanksgiving, and we talked very seriously about what they believed their timeline to be. Based on what they told me, I knew that if I didn’t make a significant change in where I was working, I would not see them in their quality of life. So I didn’t really come here to work for Holt; I came here to be close to my parents. Knock on wood, they’re still really healthy, and we’ve had just a tremendous amount of fun.

Q: How long has Holt Cat been making an effort to bring more workers into your industry — specifically women?

A: We’ve always made an effort to offer opportunities to a diverse set of folks — be that women, men, ethnically diverse, socially diverse. But recently, we have hired (Chief Information Officer Joyce Pingel), who had a tremendous interest in developing a women’s network. I would say probably in the last year and a half, we have had that launch. Corinna, being a female herself, has been very well-spoken across the need to make sure that we are bringing women in as much as we are focused on men.

Q: The industry is struggling to find workers, right?

A: I think everyone is kind of struggling to find workers right now. I don’t know if it’s a post-COVID kind of thing, but the market is extraordinarily competitive. We have found, over the last several years, that folks are not necessarily choosing the trades as a primary career path. And those folks who may have that inclination aren’t necessarily able to find an obvious career path. So we, over the last couple of years, have worked to identify what is the profile of someone who would be interested in our type of work, and then focus our communication and recruiting efforts at that kind of population to also include any females who we might be able to identify or work within the trades space.

Q: What keeps people from pursuing a career in your industry?

A: I think a lot of times education over the last several years has focused on saying that you need a four-year degree to be successful. And you might know that educational systems kind of dropped vocational ed over the last probably 25 years, with that four-year focus. I think it has disenfranchised a lot of folks and sort of lost the connection around what those careers might look like. We’re always out there talking about the trades as a viable career path. I think we have an incredible offering in terms of our values-based culture and other benefits to get people excited about them.

Q: Is the thinking regarding vocational training starting to change?

A: There appears to be a lot of conversation about it, much more sensitive to folks who may not want to choose the four-year degree path.

Q: Describe the efforts the company makes to bring people into the industry.

A: All kinds of outreach. ... But to me, it’s much more about all of the planning and programming that we do here to establish value for anyone who’d want to work here. Making sure that we have extraordinary benefits, making sure that we have excellent leadership, making sure we have a safe environment, primarily, and a culture with the values that afford somebody something to connect to. Really understand that that’s who we are and that’s how we make our decisions.

Q: Does the company work with the government to try to solve this problem?

A: We absolutely do. In fact, Peter and Corinna are very, very active locally with all of the variety of different activities there — particularly San Antonio Ready to Work. We’re working with them to identify some training opportunities. Right now we have "safety for operator” training that we’re working on getting added to their training guide curriculum — the various different offerings that organizations across the city are offering. Across the state, we’re working with the Texas Education Agency to get our curriculum — it’s called Technicians for North America — added to the approved curriculum.

Q: What kinds of skills do people need to work at one of Holt Cat’s dealerships?

A: Mechanical aptitude and an interest in learning. What we generally say is that we hire for the person’s character and their values orientation, and then we’re able to train them in the future. But obviously, we also need skilled folks. If we find someone who has worked on heavy machines — it could be anything from tractors to even aircraft — we will be able to have them use those transferable skills, upskill them on Caterpillar-specific equipment.

Q: What are the barriers to getting women in the industry?

A: I think it’s a historical kind of thing. I think it’s awareness and an initial attraction. If women in high school aren’t aware that we have roles that are awesome, they’re not going to choose to go to a technical school and they’re not going to choose, necessarily, to look for a Caterpillar dealership to go to work for. As we get better about communicating those opportunities, I think we’ll be successful in helping women to understand that we do have opportunities here.

Q: Would you say that Peter and Corinna have a different leadership style from their father?

A: I would say that if folks who were here before describe it to me, it’s much more dynamic. They’ve asked us to be a kind of culture of "yes.” If folks are saying things like, "Oh, this is way we’ve always done it,” they are asking us to be much more open to … what might be possible.

Q: What about compared to each other?

A: Peter has a much more extroverted style — you know, very charismatic kind of leadership. Corinna is just amazing. She’s smart and thoughtful, and provides grace to the organization — not to say that Peter also doesn’t provide those things. And not to say that Corinna doesn’t have a very strong voice. But that’s kind of the juxtaposition and very much complementary styles that they have.

Q: Do you feel they’re always on the same page?

A: They work very well together. It surprises me all the time how well they work together. Not to say that I would have expected anything different — but I have a brother, you know?

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