As the inaugural member of WIKA USA’s Graduate Training Program, Eugenys Contreras reflects on her experiences, the new skills she has picked up, and why she has an ideal position in the ideal company.
Succession planning is what smart companies do to ensure business continuity and prevent skills gaps. That is why WIKA USA President Todd Gardner, the executive team, and HR worked together to develop the Graduate Training Program. In this sophisticated initiative that confers full job benefits, junior professionals rotate among various departments, participate in high-level projects for six months at a time, and receive senior-level mentoring. Upon successful completion of the program, which lasts 18–24 months, participants are offered a long-term position.
Starting Her Career at WIKA
A combination of connections, good timing, and hard work was how Eugenys “Jenni” Contreras found herself at WIKA USA and, within a few months, became the program‘s first participant. She was in a business law class at Georgia Gwinnett College last year when a good friend, Erika Garcia, asked whether she’d be interested in temporarily filling her accounts receivable position while she went on maternity leave.
“It was the start of my senior year, and I had been looking into internships,” said Jenni, who in December 2019 received her Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. “Soon after I began temping, I was struck by how special WIKA is. Dagmar Deamer, my boss, was wonderful. Every single person has good intentions and is so kind. I felt like my voice mattered. From speaking with others, I know that is very rare.”
One serendipitous event led to another. After Erika returned from her leave, another employee left the department. Jenni applied for – and was picked – for that position in accounts payable. “Everything kept lining up,” she recalled.
Her enthusiasm, work ethic, and business acumen caught the attention of Steve McCullough, who was CFO at the time and is now general manager for WIKA’s Worthington, Ohio, location.
“Steve asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated. I told him I didn’t really know, but I have many interests and want to experience different things. He then said WIKA has this new program and that I should apply,” Jenni said.
Mentorships in the Age of COVID
WIKA’s Graduate Training Program seemed tailor-made for Jenni’s professional goals and skill set. But no one could have anticipated that just two months after it began, the novel coronavirus would upend everything. She was used to in-person interactions, where she could read a room and anticipate others’ reactions.
“The idea (of the program) was to meet a bunch of new people, make these connections, and try new things. Having to do all that over Skype was trickier.”
But she succeeded. Pam Durfee, senior HR manager, was relieved that Jenni was the program’s first participant. “We really like to promote from within, and Jenni had already established great relationships as a temp. She was a shoo-in,” Pam said. “When COVID hit, I was even more glad we chose her, as she already knew the company and was able to help us work through the necessary changes.”
Despite the pandemic’s restrictions and limitations, Jenni has been able to learn and contribute. Her first project was in import-export compliance. She then moved to Operations, where she helped improve on-time delivery. Jenni will have only one more project – inventory control – because Pam already has a long-term position in mind for her. Her mentor throughout the training program is Felix Brockmeyer, vice-president of industrial instrumentation.
The original plan was to inaugurate three trainees in 2020. COVID threw a wrench into everything, which was why Jenni found herself in a group of one. WIKA is now ready to expand the program, adding one or two per year, with trainees in all of WIKA USA’s locations. There are currently two openings.
As for Jenni, she is looking forward to not only growing her career, but to give back. “I’ve learned so much here. In a few years, I hope to see myself in a position where I’m able to mentor a recent graduate, to guide them as I’ve been guided. This has been an invaluable experience, and WIKA feels like home. I’m really excited to be part of a company that feels so inclusive and has such an amazing corporate culture!”