Business Smart: Automated Solutions


A Q&A with Automated’s HR Director, Kathryn Brant

We recently spoke with Kathryn Brant, who serves as HR Director for Caldwell County’s Automated Solutions, a manufacturing company with product lines primarily in packaging. Brant shared how Automated Solutions has developed its family-friendly workplace practices over time in an industry where that’s not often synonymous with family friendly.

Brant is an HR consultant with Performentor in Raleigh, which offers cost-effective HR support that’s flexible and practical. Performentor is a partner with Family Forward NC on our Rapid Response program, which offers guidance and support for small businesses and workplaces in the hospitality and manufacturing industries as they navigate COVID-19.

Below are excerpts from Kathryn’s Q&A with Lisa Finaldi, Community Engagement Leader for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. Check out the Family Forward NC Guide to Family Forward Workplaces and Rapid Response program for ideas, inspiration and support to create a family-friendly work environment within your own organization.

Lisa: How has Automated Solutions maintained a family-friendly workplace culture?

Kathryn: Twenty-three years ago, two men from Caldwell County, North Carolina started a packaging company called Automated Solutions. As they grew, they brought in their families to help run things, and having a family business has helped shape their company culture and their desire to implement family-friendly business practices.

At Automated Solutions, we are striving to become an industry leader, but at the same time we want to keep family values at the core of our business. It’s pretty straightforward—we say what we do, and we do what we say. We get better together, and we’re responsible to each other.

Lisa: What are some of the family-friendly benefits Automated Solutions currently offers?

Kathryn: We offer a baseline health care plan that includes a health care savings account (HSA), and we contribute to the start of that HSA. We also provide choices for short-term disability, long-term disability, life insurance-many company paid where possible. We think it’s really valuable to give our employees lots of options to choose from.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we did a compensation study across the board and made sure that we were competitive with our wages. We made adjustments and moved all employees to a living wage of $15 an hour. We’ve also begun a mini-MBA program to help different initiatives at the company. This also gives the employees the opportunity to grow their careers at Automated Solutions and beyond. It helps them better themselves, their families, and the community around them.

Lisa: Where are you looking to expand?

Kathryn: We want to continue to be a child care-friendly environment. As one of our plants shifts to being open 24 hours, we’re going to offer more flexible shift options that can better cater to working parents.

We also see the importance of child care assistance, so we are looking into offering child care vouchers. Plus, we’ve spoken with local and national organizations about offering backup child care. Many people in our workforce have family or a small community daycare they use for child care, and if something happens to that, they have no other options available. That’s why we’re considering offering backup child care resources.

Lisa: What outcomes are you seeing from the benefits you have in place now?

Kathryn: I think the biggest outcome is that we’re getting a more skilled set of applicants. We’re able to hire people from some of the larger companies we compete with and see our business grow from there.

Lisa: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your benefit offerings?

Kathryn: One area we had to look at differently was our paid and unpaid leave. Because we are under 500 employees, we were using Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA) benefits. When that passed, employers were given tax credits to offer 80 hours of paid time off to employees who had COVID-19 or were under quarantine from exposure to COVID-19. Then, we extended paid benefits beyond what the government required for FFRCA.

Another way we pivoted for the pandemic was having people work from home. That’s always a little difficult in a manufacturing plant. There are some people who can’t work from home, but when people can, we support that. It’s beneficial because now we know we can do it. When people have a child care issue or are recovering from surgery or have a had a baby, we are more flexible with working from home.

Lisa: How have the Rapid Response resources from Family Forward NC helped you, and how can they help other employers?

Kathryn: We’ve been able to take baby steps because even if a company is very family-friendly, you can’t always afford to do everything all at once. You can have a plan and a vision, though, where you can be creative about low-cost or no-cost options that greatly affect employee satisfaction.

This interview was part of a workshop for Injury-Free NC, a program run collaboratively by the University of North Carolina’s Injury Prevention Research Center and the North Carolina Division of Public Health Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, working to keep North Carolinians safe from injury and violence, especially by addressing the factors and root causes that contribute to injury and violence.