This blog was guest-written by Darla Gibson (Executive Admin) with input from Meg Brown (VP of HR) and Conner LaLonde (Safety Coordinator) - all members of our COVID-19 Steering Committee.

This is Part 2 of a blog that we developed to help remind us that in this time of uncertainty, we can still live out our mission of enriching lives. Read Part 1 here.

Enriching Lives During a Pandemic - From the Perspective of the Cambridge COVID-19 Steering Committee.

When we realized that we were going to have to address the COVID-19 situation at Cambridge Air Solutions from a corporate standpoint, we started a Steering Committee, as I am sure many of you did. Our COO/CFO Kevin Thompson was part of this committee and he stated up front that the Committee needed to act within four core principles: Wellbeing, Generosity, Creativity and Transparency. These principles fall into line with our “We exist to glorify God by enriching every life we touch” mission statement. But how exactly do you “Enrich Lives” when things are changing faster than you can react?

Fortunately, we have a culture that allows us a lot of flexibility in being creative, trying something that may or may not work, being quick to act, quick to fail and quick to improve! So, the following are some of the things that our COVID-19 Committee put into place to enrich the lives of our employees, vendors, and customers.

Once we verified that we were an essential business and could continue our operations, we did something that I never thought I’d see at Cambridge as we have historically been a traditional organization, working in the office. We knew we had to find a way for people to work from home.  Obviously, our manufacturing operations cannot do that, but what if the office personnel did? That would allow us to have less people crossing paths AND, allow the office side to deal with the fallout of childcare and school closures.

Then, we said, how do we address these same items (childcare and school closures) for Manufacturing, as well as keeping them safe when they come to work? This was more difficult, and as St. Louis County said, “stay at home” we decided to take a week, pay our employees, and give us breathing room to make it happen.

In that week, we worked on alternative schedules based on each employee’s need, we worked on how to make the building safe for the return, as well as on-going after the return, we reworked how outsiders could visit our building – we had a very open policy for delivery and pick-up that had to change, and we found a communication channel that we could utilize to communicate with the employees on what we were doing.

That was a tough week. The Committee put in overtime galore to make it all happen. From policy changes, governmental as well as corporate, to reworking how the lunchroom flow was going to work, it was crazy!  It didn’t feel like we were enriching, it felt like we were turning the world upside down!  Our Morning Meeting had gone from all company, in person, to virtual from home, with only the office employees! No more high-fives, fist bumps and laughter, but tired, stressed out “Brady Bunch” screens of employees!

In a little less than a week, we put together a plan, implemented it and were ready to welcome back our Manufacturing team. We made it!  We tried to make them feel welcome and safe by keeping with our brand promise of “enriching lives”. But, how did we do that?

  1. Safety – is always our first criteria for everything we do.  So, we put a portable water closet for our truck drivers, with a vanity, thanking them for “keeping America Moving!”, we rented portable hand washing stations to put them closer to the employee work stations, we took out the high-touch things like water coolers and coffee supplies, we revamped cleaning protocols…everything we could think of to keep them safe and flatten that curve!  It didn’t always feel like enriching lives, but if safety comes first, it is an enriching moment! 
  2. Communication, Communication, Communication!  This was the most difficult to execute as we had to find a platform that would work for everyone.  WhatsApp was our solution, there were a lot of choices, but this allowed us to send out messages to the employees to let them know what the changes would be and what they could expect.  It also allows them to reply if there are questions.  We use video a lot and this platform allowed us to continue the use of video. We utilized our partnerships with other businesses through our corporate memberships, such as St. Louis AME Consortium and AME National, to find and adapt documents and ideas that they were using. Being able to share and adapt what was working (or not working) at other organizations kept our speed up on these changes and communications. We also put together a survey to send out to the Operations team. This went out the end of the first week and gave us some feedback on how we were doing and the employees’ willingness to return. We are sending this out every two weeks so we can get continued feedback from them. 
  3. Scheduling – We spoke to each employee about it being voluntary to work or not work. Our goal was to help them figure out the options for pay (or no pay) given their individual situations. 
  4. Remote Meetings – I mentioned our Morning Meeting earlier, but we moved ALL meetings to remote, using Zoom and have found our employees are thankful for the flexibility this allows them as their home lives are as different as their work lives!  Our Operations team is also able to be part of the Morning Meetings in this format. We have made it purposeful to keep normal updates going through this format too. For example, our CFO does a monthly update on finances and we have continued to do this.  We are also working on our Quarterly update meeting in April and finding new solutions to making that happen. It may be a different format, but it is an important communication we do not want to skip! 

The COVID-19 Steering Committee meets as often as needed to discuss, review and update as the world and guidelines keep changing.  Then, we COMMUNICATE! Our VP of HR, Meg Brown has made sure we posted something once a day minimum at the start to keep everyone aware of what was happening.  She continues to update as things change.

Although Safety is always #1, if I had to pick an item of most impact, it is the Communication piece.  The what we are doing and why, is what lets the employee know you are thinking of them first, along with their families, our vendors, and our customers.

So many things have changed in our world but looking through the lens of “Wellbeing, Generosity, Creativity and Transparency”, allows you to always think of others before anything else.

Tips For a Successful Internship Experience From an Intern's Perspective

Internship.  The word that is always in the back of most college students’ heads.  Where do I start?  How do I get one?  Is my resume good enough?  Am I good enough?

For the summer of 2019 I applied to five internships.  One out of the five was sent to me by my uncle.  Not expecting a response or interview, I said “why not” and applied to Cambridge Engineering.  Cambridge was out of the norm compared to the other companies I applied to, which were mostly advertising or public relations agencies.  I never thought I would be interning for a manufacturer, until now.  

I went through a two-step interview process involving the initial interview where I was able to record my own responses, and then the final video chat interview with the marketing team.  A few days later, I received a call from the Director of Marketing, Randy Niederer, saying I got the position.  

Initially, I was full of excitement, but as it got closer to my start date I began to realize that I know nothing about manufacturing.  Going into this position, I had no clue what to expect.  I am a marketing intern for an HVAC manufacturing company.  Now that is not what I expected to be this summer.

I assumed I would help out the marketing team with whatever they would be working on at the time and do some social media work.  What I didn’t expect was to basically shadow someone in the department.  As soon as I walked into Cambridge on my first day, Annie Krieger was waiting for me with a huge smile on her face.

I immediately felt comfortable and forgot about how nervous I was.  On my first day, Annie introduced to me every person that walked by.  We sat down, and went over a printed list of goals for me to accomplish with my time at Cambridge.  Annie told me, “It’s not what you can do for us, it’s what we can do for you”.  This has really stuck with me throughout my internship and made me realize three things: they know I don’t know what I’m doing, they know it can be intimidating, and they want to teach me, not take advantage of me.

I am now in my last week at Cambridge, and I can truly say I have learned A LOT.  Of course, I’ve learned about marketing: how to track social media analytics, create video and social media content, update the website, and develop a campaign.  I write blogs, press releases, and I even get to sit in on meetings with other agencies.  What I didn’t expect to learn about is culture and people.

My knowledge of Cambridge prior to my internship was little to none.  Now I can confidently say that Cambridge is known for their organizational culture and caring for their people.  People from all over the nation visit us just to see how #cambridgeculture works.  Much of it comes from Cambridge’s adoption of Lean manufacturing.  In a quick definition, Lean is the elimination of waste to make one’s life easier.  It also empowers employees to make their own improvements to their work routine, not instructed by their superiors.

This lean thinking will be a major takeaway from my time at Cambridge.  I learned that even in business, people deserve to be treated with respect, applauded for their successes (big or small), and that organizational health is vital for a company to thrive.  I learned how to make my own lean improvements and that this concept can be carried over into my personal life. 

When I reflect on what I’ve done so far at Cambridge, I realize I have learned more about marketing, public relations, people, and myself.  When I think about what I still want to accomplish, my personal goals are to become more comfortable and confident when I speak or write about content I may not have background knowledge on.  

So if you are an employer hiring interns, I have some recommendations on how to provide the best experience for your interns.

  1. Remember they are nervous.  Most of them have not worked in the “real world” before so clearly express your expectations of your intern.  These expectations should be accessible to your intern, so I recommend providing them with a copy.  This way, they have set goals to work towards along with their personal goals.
  2. Consider having someone for your intern to shadow.  I can imagine it would be quite confusing trying to execute an intern position without a mentor.  That’s why I am very thankful Annie took me under her wing.  She not only is there to answer any of my questions, but takes every opportunity to teach me something new every day.  By having someone to shadow, your intern establishes an initial bond and trust with one person.  This comfort they experience will most likely give them greater confidence to approach others throughout the company.
  3. Be a leader, not a boss.  The people at Cambridge guide me on what I should be doing, but I also have the freedom to make my own choices and mistakes.  This is how I learn, because in the “real world” I won’t always have someone instructing me every step of the way.  
  4. Make it a learning experience.  Use what your company has to offer and help shape the future of these young adults who are thirsty to learn from you.  I promise whether your intern ends up working full time for you or somewhere else, they will never forget what they learned from the people that took a chance on them and offered them an internship.


Remember, it’s not always about what your intern can do for you, it’s what you can do for them.

P.S. My advice for internship seekers: Step outside of your comfort zone!  Keep your options open.  It’s not where you work, it’s the people you work with and the mission you work for.

This blog was guest-written by Meg Brown, Director of HR at Cambridge Engineering. 

The goal was 10 applicants for each opening. In a tight labor market? There’s no question: this is the most difficult time to build engaged teams in a generation. There are so many interests competing for attention. From finding workers, to upskilling them -- how can we make sure we attract the right people in the first place? We’d have to be crazy to attempt it!   

Then call us crazy because we have supersized our recruitment pipelines and enabled historically low turnover. Through a combination of people-centric leadership and innovative recruiting/development programs, we have redefined the employer/employee relationship. 

Allow me to explain. 

Cambridge doubles production in the 3rd and 4th quarter, especially on our S-Series HTHV heaters, which naturally coincide with the colder weather. For many years we have surged with seasonal employees who spend 4-6 months working for Cambridge through our busy season. A few years ago we began hiring for cultural fit over experience, believing we can provide thorough in-house training. While that helped, we were still struggling to find talent quickly enough using staffing agencies to help bridge the gap. In 2018 with the crazy goal of 10 applicants for every opening the message was clear - we had to find a new approach to attract and retain talent.     

Enter Cambridge Unleashed. 

We realized there is real value in spending time at Cambridge - even if it is only for a short period of time. So we created Cambridge Unleashed, a new concept which allowed us to start telling our story - describing the value working here can bring to each and every one of us. This program is intended for anyone interested in learning, leading and launching their manufacturing career. 

Reading 2-Second Lean by Paul Akers is a conscious step we require for all full-time and seasonal workers. This continuous improvement methodology reinforces autonomy for each person to make their work processes, and by extension, their jobs better and easier. 2-Second Lean, though, follows each person home and extends beyond the walls of Cambridge. We hear time and again how someone recognized waste or something that bugged them at home and exclaimed “Hey, that’s a lean improvement!” Exposure and practice of this mentality is quick and effective, and can help a person make their own experiences better for their rest of their lives.

We’ve found that when our 20 “Unleashers” dove into the given opportunities they end up unlocking their potential, feeling appreciated and in control of their own workspace. Here are some real life examples:

  • Many Unleashers found courage they didn’t know they had and volunteered to emcee the morning meeting. 
  • Our team reached a company record breaking production level of 13 units a day.  
  • All 20 Unleashers jumped into our lean system making videos showing highlights of their improvements. 
  • Zero lost-time accidents through the entire busy season.

You might be wondering what happens at the end of the program? Where do these seasonal employees go after Unleashed? 

We realized quickly that if Cambridge Unleashed is a program for anyone who wants to launch their manufacturing career, then we had better figure out how to do it.  Many of our Unleashers came into Cambridge having never worked in manufacturing, and after 4-6 months with us they had learned the daily habits necessary to be a dedicated lifelong continuous improvement/lean maniac. What company wouldn’t want to hire them?!? We just had to figure out a way to tell their story. So we used video – a well loved tool often used at Cambridge. 

We created a launching process which allowed us to work with our Unleashers to determine their best next step at the end of the program.  Did they want to apply for our open positions and launch internally or did they want to look for a job somewhere else launching externally? Either way we were in it with them every step of the way. Those interested in internal launch applied for those openings, completed an interview process and were considered for any openings available. Those interested in external launch worked closely with us to create an introduction and highlight video they could use when they applied to other companies. We helped them update their resumes, adding a link to their video so any recruiter could see the amazing work they had done at Cambridge. Then to help get the word out we blasted their videos to our entire network, letting them know we had some Unleashed graduates who were seeking employment. 

All in all, we launched all 20 Unleashers into positions they are excited to have, many here at Cambridge and a few elsewhere. We smashed the goal – achieving an average of 20 applicants for each opening!   We are beyond thrilled with the results of Cambridge Unleashed. Can’t wait to do it again in 2019!