Denso’s culture evolves to win over millennials

Traverse City, Mich. — Auto companies will have to offer broader learning experiences and flexible work schedules to attract and keep their employees, argues a top executive at Japanese supplier Denso.

For some businesses, that will mean radical change.

“We have to be a different place to work, especially to engage our younger associates,” Kara Grasso, vice president of strategic planning at Denso International America, said Wednesday at the seminars.

Denso’s North American operations include injection molding for its thermal management parts.

Companies such as Denso can seem like giant bureaucracies to new employees who may not feel fully involved. Denso is trying to change its culture through a program it calls IGNITE, which offers new hires an opportunity to spend two years working in different jobs at various Denso locations. She cited one recent college graduate who went through the program, starting in Michigan, and spending time in San Diego and Japan before returning to Michigan.

“The amount of education she got was just phenomenal,” Grasso said of the employee. That type of experience is important in attracting millennials.

“This generation needs to come in and have a purpose,” Grasso said, “and feel like they’re contributing to not only the job that they were hired for, but also given time to work on the passion projects that motivate them.”

Denso has transformed in the past decade to diversify its work force. It has encouraged mentorships and loosened the way it interacts with its white- and blue-collar employees, Grasso said. But the supplier has a lot of work to do.

“Today, we do not have a diverse work force,” Grasso said. “We can’t have all of the same looking people sitting around the boardroom making decisions.”

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