JFK Interiors was left with big shoes to fill...

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What do you do when your workflow depends on a hard-to-find skill set and you’re about to lose a keystone team member?

This was the situation faced by JFK Interiors when veteran draftsman Steve said he’d be hanging up his set square after 26 years.


The Problem:

JFK Interiors was left with big shoes to fill. The nature of his role – a cabinetry draftsperson proficient in Microvellum software – meant finding the right person was not going to be easy.

In modern cabinetry manufacturing, driven by automated machining, drafting is a crucial stage in the workflow. The drafting step can represent a major bottleneck in production: the factory cannot run without designs to feed the machines. Automatic machining makes accurate drafting more critical than ever: a mistake in the design can mean thousands of miscut components and a major loss for the business. Long story short, Jfk Interiors needed a quality candidate and they needed them as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, cabinetry drafters are a rare breed. The work attracts unique personalities, and that’s before you factor in the skill set and competition with other industries for the same talent. Microvellum drafting itself is a specialisation within the specialisation, and the customisability of the software suite means a steep learning curve for even experienced candidates moving between factories. That means hiring a candidate with the right personality as well as one who can work the software.

Outsourcing drafting is gaining in quality and popularity, but there is always a need to have someone who really understands your processes from the inside. That’s why Jfk Interiors reached out to Top Draft Group to find a replacement. Read on to find out they helped Jfk Interiors find the right person in the right time frame.


Key Points:

  • Client name: Jfk Interiors
  • Average annual turnover: $20 million
  • Factory staff: 24
  • Drafting team: 4
  • Problem: Finding a suitable recruit to replace a long-serving draftsman
  • Recruitment turnaround: 1 month
  • Business location: Melbourne
  • Goal: To find a candidate with the right skills and attitude
  • Outcome: Top Draft Group found, placed and trained a suitable candidate in just 3 months
  • Founded in 1997, JFK Interiors specialises in commercial joinery projects – especially for the public sector. From train stations to prisons, their work involves large-scale projects with a high degree of complexity.

    According to JFK Interiors Finance and IT Manager Allison Staggard, the joinery sector has been trending towards more complex, bespoke installations. This, combined with the scale of their typical jobs, means JFK Interiors has a need to maintain an in-house drafting team to remain responsive to client demands.

    About Top Draft Group:

  • ​​Remote Drafting Services
  • Drafter Training
  • Culture-fit Recruitment

    When it comes to filling your drafting shortfall, Top Draft Group provides a 360-degree service. That could mean straightforward support to fill a large contract, right through to finding the right full-timer to join your team. A big part of the approach of owner Joanne Trentini is to focus on finding candidates that match a company’s culture, not just a list of required skills.

    Sometimes finding the right personality is more important than having a candidate whose resume ticks every box in the job ad. And it is this ethos that is the reason why Top Draft Group offers recruitment, training and coaching programs to help align a candidate who may be a natural cultural match for a business with the systems, projects and processes that business is using. Thus making them a skills match as well as a character match. In essence, hiring for attitude and training for skill.

    And it was this capability that was called on by JFK Interiors when they had a vacancy that required a candidate with the right mindset and technical skills.

  • The drafting challenge at JFK Interiors

    Jfk Interiors Finance and IT Manager Allison Staggard says the business was already looking to hire another drafter when the situation became more acute upon the prospect of another vacancy in the same team arising.

    “We were trying to replace someone who had left previously, and then Steve decided to retire too. So, we knew we had to fill the vacancy, and we knew we had to fill it quickly,” Staggard says.

    “We don’t want to go down the path of having 15 listers because we don’t have the space here. That’s not going to happen. We need quality people who can produce.”

    However, finding that quality person was no easy task, especially under time pressure. Draftspeople are in demand in a range of industries. Everyone is competing for the same pool of skilled candidates. Add to that the ad-hoc nature of qualifications in drafting software and there’s no standard benchmark for assessing a candidate’s skills.

    Joanne Trentini of Top Draft Group points out that while CNC (computer numerical control) routers have transformed the manufacturing side of joinery, the processes and skills upstream of the CNC machines have not necessarily kept up with the pace of change.

    “The whole industry has been a little bit slow on the uptake. We’ve recognised and embraced the machining technology, however, a skills gap has developed for the training of drafters to effectively harness the manufacturing power that they bring. This skills gap can only be filled with high-quality training from qualified and experienced professionals, like Top Draft Group,” Trentini says.

    “You need someone to feed the CNC machines: the people who feed the CNC are the drafters. The industry broadly just hasn’t invested enough time or money in educating drafters in CNC processes. It is not even part of the cabinetmaking apprenticeship,” she says.

    Traditionally, drafters have received ad-hoc training from either the previous drafter or someone who “knows how to use the program”, who has probably received their training from the previous drafter before them. This doesn’t make for high-quality training or trainers. Add to that the lack of qualified cabinet makers that are comfortable and eager to sit in front of a computer for most of the day, and the pool of ideal and eligible candidates tends to be very small.

    On top of a general shortage of drafters, Jfk Interiors was looking for a drafter skilled in Microvellum. Recruiting for a Microvellum drafter is made more difficult by precisely the features that make the program attractive in the first place. Microvellum offers wide-ranging customisability, meaning the workflow and interface can vary massively between factories.

    “It’s very hard to place someone from one company into another without undergoing a large orientation period – it’s inescapable. There are not a lot of processes or even standardised ways of doing things across the industry. The skills are the same, but how they’re used is completely different from place to place.

    For all of these reasons, Jfk Interiors needed a candidate who could be trained on their system. Despite having already attempted to fill this position on their own, finding an experienced drafter who was also a good fit for the company had proved difficult. Additionally, Staggard says, open recruitment was drawing attention from unsuitable overseas candidates.

    “They wanted us to sponsor them. We just can’t accommodate that,” Staggard says.

    In the end, management at Jfk Interiors concluded that they were going to need help. Allison Staggard explains that because there are hardly any trainees in Microvellum in Australia, they saw they needed a specialist to uncover one.

    “Joanne’s team is a one-stop-shop. We’re in Victoria but we had to go to Top Draft Group, all the way up in Queensland, because locally, you just can’t get this service. But you can go to Joanne and say, ‘Hey, I need you to put an ad up to your people to say we’re looking for someone. We need that person trained in Microvellum and we want it done on-site’, and she will get it done.”

    Bringing in Top Draft Group

    The engagement to recruit Jfk Interiors’ new Microvellum drafter was not actually the first time the two companies had worked together. Because, as well as drafting recruitment, Top Draft Group also offers remote drafting services, and Jfk Interiors had already called on those in the past. In other words, the credibility of Top Draft Group with Jfk Interiors was already established. So, when it became clear that Jfk Interiors was not going to find the right candidate by themselves, Paul DiBlasi, director and listing manager, knew who to call.

    Jfk Interiors was surprised and delighted when, after less than two months, Top Draft Group introduced the management team to Marcel Rittner – a woodworking natural and promising young drafter with the right qualifications and mindset for the job. So … how did Top Draft Group pull it off?

    “Paul spoke to Joanne, along with our HR manager. They went through what was going to be advertised. She went away and did her thing and did all the vetting of the prospective candidates. She was able to do that for us without us even having to see them,” Staggard says.

    “This went on for a few weeks, probably about a month. And then, Joanne found Marcel! He came in to talk to our boys in Melbourne, and we loved him.”

    Trentini said her approach to finding Rittner out in the wilderness of jobseekers was typical of how Top Draft Group operates. She worked her contacts, kept her ear to the ground, drafted her job ads carefully and vetted thoroughly, yet empathetically.

    “When we’re looking for a candidate for a client, we usually do a call with the management or HR team of about 40 minutes. We want the process to be as low-touch and painless as possible,” Trentini says.

    “In talking to Paul DiBlasi, I asked a lot of questions about the culture of Jfk Interiors and what they were looking for. I asked, what kind of management style do they like to have? Who do they currently have in similar roles? Where will the new hire fit in the organisation? All that kind of stuff. And then, I just have a really good conversation with them to understand who they are and what they like, and that’s it.”

    Top Draft Group doing its thing

    Of course, anyone can post a want-ad online, but, as Jfk Interiors found out from its own efforts, that doesn’t guarantee a suitable candidate response. According to Trentini, being plugged into the industry via their drafting services and their one-of-a-kind Training and Recruitment Service gives Top Draft Group an advantage over other recruiters.

    “It’s about going out to my networks and making sure that I really define what I’m looking for,” she says.

    Top Draft Group also has the advantage of a wider pool of talent, because they’re able to train candidates for the target role. “We hire for attitude and train for skill.”

    When it came to Marcel Rittner, Trentini could see his attitude set him apart.

    “The best thing about him was that he had been asking his previous boss for over six months to allow him to train on drafting,” she says.

    That permission was not granted and Rittner realised the time might have come to move onward and upward in his career. After making contact with Rittner, Trentini established a working relationship and helped to guide him in his decision about the Jfk Interiors role.

    “I offer my candidates a lot of support through the interview and placement process because it’s important to make sure that it’s the right fit for both parties. Otherwise, the candidate will move on quickly and everyone is back where they started. When Marcel started with Jfk, I would reach out to him once or twice a week just to make sure that he was still going okay, that Top Draft Group were providing the support and training that he needed to be successful in his new position.”

    Trentini said Rittner could see that Jfk Interiors looked like a great place to work and was ultimately won over by knowing he was going to a company where he would be a good fit.

    “It was a place to grow and it really just worked for him. In terms of company culture, it was right for everyone,” Trentini says.

    Sharpening the Pencil

    Once Trentini had found Rittner and brought him and Jfk Interiors together, Top Draft Group moved into the training phase of its recruitment services. As Staggard says, this was a godsend for Jfk Interiors.

    “You could say we’ve been looking under rocks and everything for people who could do the work or who had a background we could train them up from. Then Joanne turns up with Marcel and goes, ‘here you go and I’ll train him’: it’s just like, ‘you’re kidding’,” Staggard says.

    “Otherwise, they’ve got to be trained by someone here which takes time away from the heavy drawing workload we already have.”

    Training on Microvellum is a tricky business anyway, the software is so customisable and is used so differently from business to business that learning a generic configuration is of limited use. This is why Top Draft Group makes sure their training is tailored to the destination company’s systems.

    “Microvellum is excellent software, but with its customisation comes complexity. And with that complexity, the level of knowledge you need to wield it goes up sharply,” Trentini says.

    “So, what we did for Jfk Interiors is what we do for all clients. We take a mirror-image of their Microvellum setup, cherry-pick the tasks and skills that apply best to their setup and create a training curriculum that’s individual to the company.

    “We teach the new drafter based on their particular needs. It’s remote learning, so they are in their own office, at their own workstation and being trained on projects that the company currently has underway. That way, they get used to how the setup works in their particular company, how they will be using it, what they will be expected to deliver and how best to deliver that.”

    Having the new hire contributing as soon as possible is important, especially when they are stepping into the gap left by a veteran staffer. This is also why Top Draft Group aims to keep the training tightly targeted. As Trentini says, the starter course is just four sessions (albeit of eight hours each) – a total of 32 hours.

    “The way that we prefer to space it out is two days together at the start, to give the new hire a really good foundation and a really good understanding of how the software works. This means they can be left with it and start giving some return on investment to the employer,” she said.

    As the new hire goes about their new job for the few weeks following those first 16 hours of training, there are inevitably emergent issues. These are noted and addressed in the next session. And finally, a few weeks later again, the final session addresses any lingering matters.

    The Verdict

    It’s one thing to find a promising hire, but it’s something else again for a promising new hire to deliver on their potential. The same goes when it comes to enlisting a recruitment service like Top Draft Group. On both counts, Jfk Interiors is impressed.

    Staggard says Top Draft Group was easy to work with and on the ball at every stage: “We found that Joanne is very personable. She’s friendly, answers the phone at all times of day and always comes back with a response on email within an hour. She’s very receptive to new clients and established ones, like us.

    “The flexibility that Top Draft Group offers is unique. I really do think they’re up to the challenge and they always perform. That is rare in this market.”

    As for Rittner, he has now completed his training and is an effective member of the Jfk Interiors drafting team.

    “He’s slotted right in. These guys – drafters – can look at a drawer and they know its dimensions and the hardware already: they know that, they think like that. It’s a unique mindset that drafters have – you either have it or you don’t. Marcel has it. It’s a rare skill and we treasure it here. And above that, he’s a real gentleman. A lovely man,” Staggard says.

    From the initial contact after their own recruitment efforts failed, through Top Draft Group placing Marcel Rittner, through his orientation with Jfk Interiors and now to the completion of his Microvellum training – it’s been a busy three months for all involved.

    You have to agree, when it comes to finding a candidate that fits a specialist role in your team, that kind of turnaround is exceptional. And Top Draft Group can do it for you too.

    To find the perfect talent for your drafting needs, reach out to Joanne Trentini at info@topdraftgroup.com or call 0408 775 355. Uncover your next drafting superstar and keep your production and installation teams busy.