Leadership Breakfast 11.09.22 | David Hataj & How to Build a Sustainable Workforce

Sponsored by ITU AbsorbTech

Community members, Maranatha faculty, staff, and students gathered on November 9, 2022 to hear David Hataj, president and co-owner of Edgerton Gear, Inc., and author of How Blue Collar Businesses Can Change Lives, Communities, and the World.

He opened the presentation by sharing a little of his story. As a teenager, he struggled with drinking and suicide. His dad didn’t believe he would amount to much. But Hataj went to college and after graduation, came back to the family business, Edgerton Gear, a gear shop started by his dad. At that time, in the 90s, the business culture was rough. There was a lot of drinking happening on the job. Hataj wanted to change that. 

“Growing a sustainable workforce is like growing a beet the size of your head,” he stated as he showed a beet the size of his head from his garden. But how does that relate to the workforce?

The Critical Role of Business 

Hataj opened the floor to hear from the community members what their businesses are and what they do. After hearing from a few people, he had the audience take a moment and imagine what the room would look like without businesses. There wouldn’t be any chairs, tables, carpet, or building. Civilization, Hataj argued, would not exist without businesses. 

Hataj referenced Jeff Van Duzer’s book Why Business Matters to God and highlighted two points about the purpose of business: 

  1. To Provide Goods and Services. In other words, to better the community and encourage growth.
  2. To Provide Meaningful Employment. Hiring, Hataj pointed out, is not a new problem. Replacing the workforce is a problem that goes back for decades. 

Once again, Hataj opened the floor to the audience by asking what they thought made a sustainable workforce. One person said that having family members working together and multiple generations working at their company was sustainable. Another said that having a good reputation in the community and treating their employees like family was sustainable. 

Hataj stated three ways to build a sustainable workforce: 

  1. Help your employees know that what they’re doing is important. They need to be engaged and committed to produce excellence.
  2. Low turnover is huge in sustainability. To keep people from job shopping, provide growth opportunities. 
  3. Multiple generations of employees can provide sustainability. 

How do we do this? 

Building a Purposeful & Relational Culture

The answer is the two greatest needs of every person:

  1. Purpose
  2. Relationships

“If you don’t have one, but you have the other, what’s the point?” Hataj asked. “You could have a purpose, but no one to share it with. You could have relationships and fun but with no purpose, you have trouble.” The problem with businesses today, Hataj explained, is that they miss their deeper sense of purpose. They’re focused on having fun with their employees.

“If you have healthy relationships,” Hataj stated, “that gives people a reason to stay.” 

At this point, Hataj transitioned to talk about mentoring relationships and mentoring cultures in business. He discussed the perception that the younger generation doesn’t want to be mentored. 

“Do you want to be mentored?” he asked two students sitting near the front. “Do you want someone to come alongside you and help and give you advice?” The young ladies nodded their heads. 

“On the flip side, what does the older generation start thinking about? Legacy. What are they leaving behind? Did they make the world a better or worse place? Older generations have a need to mentor,” Hataj reasoned. 

According to Hataj, the challenge is bringing the generations together. 

Craftsman with Character

The solution that Hataj found was a mentorship program he created called Craftsman with Character. The inspiration for this program came when he was invited to speak at a local high school and recognized himself in a few of the high school students: students who were not visual or auditory learners, but kinesthetic learners. Students who were intelligent but weren’t in the right environment to learn. 

Craftsman with Character involves 4 days of job shadowing that allows high school students to make connections with the older staff at Edgerton Gear. And that’s just the base level of the mentorship program that Hataj created.

Hataj shared a video that showcased the culture created by the mentorship program. The video contained personal stories of young men who were hired at Edgerton Gear, mentored by seasoned workers, and are now thriving. As the mentors shared their good and bad life experiences, the mentorship program thrived. 

“The mentorship program is transformational,” Hataj assured the audience. 

To close, Hataj shared The Craftsman’s Code he developed and has ingrained in the culture of Edgerton Gear: (Comments made by Hataj while presenting The Craftsman’s Code are below the italic lines. For the full version of The Craftsman’s Code, click here.)

I am not the center of the universe. 

The world existed before you. You are building on things that have been done before. We keep learning from things before us.

I don’t know everything, nor nearly as much as I think I do. 

We’re always learning. There is a give and take in learning – the older can learn from the younger and vice versa.

There is dignity and purpose in knowing my trade. 

It’s not a menial job. Manufacturing and trades are essential.

The world needs me. 

Kids who don’t do well in high school, have a rough home life, or won’t make it in college, are discouraged. When they realize they have something to offer, it lights them up.

Pay is a reward for my efforts but not my main motivation. 

What makes us happy? Research shows that the more money you have, the less happy you are. It’s not all about money. It’s about purpose and relationships.

Every person has unique gifts and talents. 

God brought us here for a purpose. Every person is meant to be here. There are no “throw-away” people.

So what does a beet size of your head have to do with a sustainable workforce? Hataj has been gardening for many years and has been nurturing his soil. Over time, his soil became healthy. When it came time to harvest the beets, he let it grow a little longer and ended up with a beet the size of his head. At Edgerton Gear, 30 years of doing the little things, developing the culture, and building the mentorship program led to the little miracles. Nurturing your business, like nurturing a garden, takes time, but will yield sustainability. 

Speaking of his own business, Hataj shared, “These are the throwaway kids, the kids that the schools don’t know what to do with, but they come together and accomplish great things.”

Hataj closed with a Q&A session. 

The next Leadership Breakfast will be on January 25. Find out more here