Though Allen tailors his message to the particular audience, his talks to students always include at least three points of advice.
“One is to recognize that your competition is not just the people seated around you,” he says. “Your competition is also the people who are going to universities in India, China or Brazil. The reality is that you are going to have to outcompete them as well.”
Sam Allen in Feb. 2012 at Deere’s new tractor factory in Montenegro, Brazil, where he met with employees like assembler Joel Oliveira, shown here, who made a brief continuous improvement presentation. (Photo provided)
Allen’s second message to students is to focus more on gaining experience and less on gaining an impressive job title. “You can really limit yourself if you focus more on moving up the ladder than about moving crosswise and gaining all the experiences you need, especially early on in your career.”
The third point he makes to students is that they will be working in an increasingly diverse environment with colleagues from around the globe. Only those who can relate to and develop working relationships with people from different backgrounds and cultures will succeed. Allen says, “The days of a company like ours having employees coming primarily from the Midwest are long gone.”
Stemming the tide
Deere’s commitment to building a diverse, engaged and skilled workforce includes the promotion and advancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, beginning at the K-12 level.
“We consider STEM literacy increasingly important for students at all levels to support 21st century learning and jobs, regardless of their career choice, but if you don’t have a good background of STEM skills coming out of high school, it’s pretty hard to change that at the college level,” Allen says.
Toward that end, Allen in 2011 led the introduction of the John Deere Inspire Program, a global initiative designed to inspire the next generation of innovators through education in STEM coupled with connections and hands-on experiences with the real world.
The effort includes strategic partnerships with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and the support of more than 200 FIRST Robotics and LEGO leagues in the communities where Deere operates. The company also supports Project Lead the Way, a STEM initiative for middle school and high school students, and sponsors “Bring a Girl to Engineering Day” as part of its annual recognition of Engineers Week.
Allen says John Deere Inspire is a point of pride among employees, who volunteered more than 15,000 hours of their time to the program in the first year alone. “The support from our employees has been extraordinary,” he says.