Kraig Kistinger of National Tube Supply: A Passion for Helping People Be Their Best in Manufacturing
Director of Human Resources
National Tube Supply
This interview is a part of our series featuring employers who embrace truly inclusive hiring practices. For more stories of how real people have benefited from exploring new talent pipelines, visit our blog.
Tell us about your current role and company.
I am the Director of Human Resources at National Tube Supply. NTS aims to be the unparalleled market leader in the supply of tubular and bar products, both standard and customized, across North America. We are recognized for our unmatched dedication to fostering operational excellence through sustainable, equitable and socially responsible business practices that ensure stability and deliver results for our customers, employees and shareholders alike.
What is it like to work at National Tube Supply? What makes it special or unique?
Within our industry, we're big enough to make a significant impact in our niche, but we're small enough to care. And we care - we provide a holistic experience for our customers. They can get steel from many different places, but they buy from National Tube Supply because of our customer service. We’re a family-owned organization that really does treat everyone like family. That attitude extends to our customers and to our co-workers. Even after the pandemic, we continue to give out free tests where needed, we celebrate company success on a quarterly basis and send out personally signed anniversary and birthday cards from the management team on a monthly basis. We’re always trying to make that personal connection and show that we care.
What is the company hoping to achieve in the next few years?
We are looking to drive organic growth in our workforce by utilizing traditional and inclusive hiring practices.
Like many organizations, we are experiencing a shift in our demographics with the Baby Boomer generation retiring and Generation Z onboarding.
We want to bring our new employees into a caring culture that inspires them to always consider the effect that their work will have on our customers and how taking care of our customers takes care of our families.
What significant workforce challenges is National Tube currently facing?
Similar to many organizations, post the “Great Reshuffle,” our challenge is integrating new employees to our company culture and ensuring they do their roles safely with a focus on customer service. That’s quite a challenge.
We also experienced cultural challenges with having varied age groups in our workforce. Each demographic has different priorities, and we often have to balance differing values and approaches to work. This can become especially difficult for supervisors, and we want to ensure that they are equipped with the soft skills needed to effectively manage the workforce.
What are some examples of entry-level jobs at National Tube Supply that don't require a four-year degree?
Most of the jobs in our warehouse do not require a four-year degree. In fact, we regularly recruit from local high schools. I started a program in 2021 that allows high schoolers to work with us during the summer, gaining valuable industrial experience. This is a program that many other employers won't necessarily offer because they believe that there are perceived barriers.
We’ve now expanded the program and utilize our workforce partner and schools to market part-time jobs during the school year to this same demographic.
Without our partner, we wouldn’t be able to offer the flexibility of part-time work. It’s important to us that these high schoolers have the option of having Fridays off to still enjoy sports or just be students.
Additionally, we don’t require a four-year degree for positions on our sales team. We've hired many people who have varied experiences. We provide training, so in the end, we are looking for the person with the right skills and the right attitude.
What might preclude an applicant from being considered for an entry-level job? E.g., criminal background check, drug testing, etc.
Ultimately, we tell applicants that if they have a good attitude, are reliable and show up ready to work, learn and listen, then we'd love to have them on our team. However, we are a drug-free workplace and in an industrial environment, so safety is our number one concern.
We require hair follicle drug testing, and we run criminal background checks for all employees, but we review each situation individually.
We seek to understand what happened, when it happened and most importantly, what has changed since then. At the end of the day, we want to be a part of somebody's future success.
As a result, we have several previously justice involved individuals working for us, and they are doing a great job.
Do these positions have a career path associated with them - i.e., a way to be promoted to a position with greater responsibility and compensation?
There are many different career paths at National Tube Supply. All of our frontline supervisors are people who have been promoted from entry-level positions at our warehouse. They started in their initial role, then progressed to a lead role and then moved into a supervisory position.
For example, our President started out in the shipping office and worked his way up in our organization. And during that time, he got himself a bachelor's degree and a master's. We also have an IT programmer that started out in the warehouse.
We saw he had a spark for computers, and we found a career path that brought him into our IT department. He started out at Help Desk, and with support from the company, he received a certification and now serves as our Junior Programmer.
Does your organization routinely provide on-the-job training for employees hired into these positions?
Yes, and for the first time, we’ve added a dedicated Training and Safety Specialist to our internal team. What we’ve done with this position is an example of our commitment to training. This position did not require a four-year degree, and once hired, we sent our trainer to the Association for Training and Development to learn the fundamentals of training, instructional design and onboarding. Today, all new hires go through some form of OJT (on-the-job training).
What are some ways that you source your entry-level talent?
We take a broad approach to recruitment and tap many sources for talent. We utilize job boards on Indeed, Facebook, LinkedIn and our website. We're also very active in community job fairs, and, through my involvement with the Will County Workforce Investment Board, we participate in all Will County job fairs. Our team recruits directly from local high schools, and we routinely participate in job discussions and mock interviews.
Lastly, we connect with temporary placement agencies. After a short period, those recruits are moved to a permanent position.
What are the challenges of working with workforce partners to source talent?
In some cases, the agencies could do a better job of vetting candidates and ensuring that their participants will truly be a good fit for the position.
I had an experience with an agency where they initially told us about 20 job seekers, but once we showed them our openings and waited for some time, we ended up with zero candidates. That particular experience went poorly, and I gave that hard feedback to the director of the organization. I'd be remiss if I didn't give that feedback because I truly believe in workforce development and in our partnership. I’m not going to be perfect and neither will they. Only by talking to each other can we figure out how to be better.
Moving on to your own personal work history, what was your first job and how old were you when you started working?
My first two official jobs were for the Park District as a Day Camp Counselor and at Marshall Field's as a Store Associate after school. I was the youngest person at the job and must have made a big impression on management. Instead of working in the stockroom, I had all of the fun assignments.
What has your career progression looked like?
I've always worked in the industrial sector. My first full-time job out of college was working for a company called Merkle-Korff. They were manufacturers of subfractional horsepower electric gear motors. I was also in the rail industry, manufacturing and worked for a mechanical contractor in petro chem. All these roles had progressive responsibility in human resources. Now, I’m back in the steel industry.
Why are you motivated to work with entry-level talent in the ways that you do?
People gave me chances, and I’m happy to do the same. I was the youngest worker at Marshall Field's and the youngest day camp counselor. While in college, I almost flunked out, but I discovered that I have a learning disability. I received help and have been able to leverage my abilities to do great things.
I have a passion for helping people be the best they can be. And it’s important to me that we look to steer the next generation in the right direction. It's the right thing to do.
I always tell anyone I’m mentoring to follow my three B’s to success: Be Authentic; Believe in Yourself; and have a Bias for Action.