Consultant ‘Farm’ Grows New Workers

Originally written by Nora Poole and printed in Minnesota Business Magazine

Several years after co-founding Keyot, a boutique management consulting firm based in Oakdale, Minn., Laura Kelly received a challenge from a client, asking her for a solution to a generational staffing crunch.

“The problem was that the workforce is aging faster than young people are coming on board,” Kelly explains. “Look 20 years into the future and suddenly this is a big issue.”

In response, Kelly began developing a college recruitment program aimed at bringing top college graduates into the workforce with the leadership skills they need to succeed — before even setting foot in the work place.

“We looked for raw talent that would thrive under the mentorship of our senior consultants [and partners],”Kelly explains. “After the recruits go through our training program, we help place them in entry level project management roles.”

The program proved incredibly successful, she notes. Not only did Keyot’s clients get a proverbial “breath of fresh air” by hiring on young employees, they also got a peek into their future customer bases.

“These young people are the future consumers, the future buyers of the mortgages and insurance policies that our clients are selling,” Kelly says.

In 2012, Keyot brought on Cindy Rockwell to lead the quickly expanding college hire program. Although Keyot is based in Minnesota, it has offices in Iowa, and most recently, Texas. The program serves college grads in all three areas. Rockwell eventually joined as a partner and leads the Crew212 program in Iowa.

According to Rockwell, Crew212 was named for the temperature at which water becomes steam. “At that temperature, there is change happening,” she says. “Steam is powerful, a force that can drive engines. The kids we bring on are outstanding; they’re a powerful force of change for the future.”

The requirements for recruitment are indeed rigorous. “What we look for first and foremost is strong communication skills regardless of major,” Rockwell says. “You could be a music major or a finance major, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are an excellent communicator.”

Next up is a strong track record of extracurricular commitment or work history while in school. Rockwell says this shows the ability to juggle many things at once while maintaining balance. Finally, the program requires a 3.4 or higher grade point average. Students meeting these standards then go through a three-tier interview process and two-step evaluation before being admitted into the program.

When students join the program, which is offered twice annually (once in the early summer and once at the end of the calendar year to coincide with graduation times), they begin with a two week “boot camp,” Rockwell says. During the first week the recruits undergo soft skills training; the second week tackles hard skills, or what the students need to walk in on the first day with a client and be ready to hit the ground running, as well as project-based work. They report on site to the client at the start of week three.

“This training program gives students a ‘tool belt’ which equips them with the skills necessary in order to function on day one when they’re placed with a client,” Rockwell says.

“When our clients try this program, they usually come back for more,” Kelly says. “They practically ‘take orders’ for the next graduating class.”

Christine Murphy, a recent Crew212 graduate, says that her experience since participating in the program has been great. After graduating from the University of Iowa in 2014, she was recruited to the program and worked her first placement at Wells Fargo. She has since moved to Dallas, Texas, to do work as a demand manager for MoneyGram.

“The learning curve was steep at first,” Murphy explains, “but I’ve learned so much from holding an important role at a large company.”
Murphy also says she has gained a lot of knowledge about what she does and doesn’t like in a workplace, which has prepared her to move forward more intentionally in her career.

“It’s a great program,” she says. “I would definitely encourage other students to get involved.”