Pay for Skill

Blackhawk Engineering changed the way it handles employee compensation in 2007. It’s paying off, for everyone. Prior to implementing the ‘Pay for Skill’ platform, BHE gave employee raises solely based on seniority in a time-based compensation system. “We were finding it difficult to retain people,” said John Oltman, general manager. “Due to the area demand for CNC operators, they would stay for a while, but then get lured away for better paying positions elsewhere.”


Administrators took an objective look at what it would take to retain employees, especially once they had completed the training program. They built a Pay for Skill program allowing employees to be assessed and rated annually on progress to earn raises. A team of employees and senior leaders determined 20 skillsets required to be an outstanding CNC operator. Those skills make up the basis for rating each employee.


“We wanted to find a way to entice people to learn, instead of just putting in their time,” said Oltman. This program allows the employee to ultimately be in charge of their own wage scale. Employees are taught skills to make them productive and knowledgeable, which increases their value at BHE.


Many shining stars have emerged since the implementation the policy. Seven-year veteran employee, Jose Serna-Martinez understands the value of his hard work.


Martinez started as an entry-level Utility Operator with no experience and within his first year moved up the ranks to CNC Operator. He has advanced even further, currently holding the position as CNC operator set-up technician, one of the highest skilled positions on the shop floor.


When asked how the Pay for Skill program has benefitted him, Martinez was quick to respond, “I have been able to provide a better life for my family.


There’s motivation to learn more skills. “The more you pay attention and learn all you can, the quicker you can earn more,” He said.

Another employee seeing tremendous growth opportunity from the Pay for Skill program is Brian Finn. Starting as a fork truck driver three years ago, Finn has now advanced to the position of CNC Operator. “You’re more in control of opportunities to earn raises,” said Finn. “I’m now making more money than I ever would at my previous job.”


Originally, Aaron Janaszak took a pay cut to come to work for Blackhawk Engineering. “After six months of hard work, I was making more than I ever would have at my previous employer,” said Janaszak. Now in his second year with the company, he is thrilled to help build parts for various types of equipment that is used on a farm where he also works. “You get what you put into it. You could just do the minimum, but as they say, you reap what you sow.”


“If someone is willing, there are always opportunities to learn,” said Finn. “The more you learn, the more valuable you are to the company and you get paid what you’re worth.”


In addition to the Pay for Skill program, the company has implemented a Suggestion Process where employees can suggest improvements for process changes, safety or quality improvements. If their suggestion is accepted, they will receive either cash compensation or extra flex time. Each employee is encourage to submit at least two suggestions per year.


Blackhawk Engineering continuously recruits for positions. The company offers competitive benefits, including health, dental and vision insurance; holiday pay, flex time and others. The best way to find out what positions are available is to check the careers section of