719-241-4992 dberg@oterogov.org

Highlighting the many careers in Manufacturing Southeast Colorado has to offer

Criston Menz

Director of Human Resources
Oliver Manufacturing

Careers in Manufacturing come in many different forms – from HR to Accounting to Technology and everything in between – there is more to Manufacturing than line assembly. To learn a little more about what a career in manufacturing looks like, we spoke with Criston Menz, Director of Human Resources at Oliver Manufacturing in La Junta, CO.

First, tell us a little about your current position and how long you’ve been at it. Basically, what does a person in your position like you do? What does your day look like?

I am currently Director of Human Resources – I’ve been working in the field for 20+ years in some capacity or another – and I’ve been at Oliver for 3 ½ years. HR is the psychology or sociology of the workforce. Most HR departments have a team to tackle things like benefits, safety, payroll, diversity and inclusion, employee training. In a small company like Oliver, I am the whole department, so I wear a different hat every minute of the day.

What drove you to choose your career path?

I worked in restaurant operations for long time, and knew I needed a change as I was going to get older. So as I finished my education, I tried to figure out what I enjoyed the most – and for me that was the intrinsic benefits of helping customers and employees. I love working with people so HR was a natural fit.

Before Oliver, I had experience in Manufacturing – it shares similarities with the restaurant business. There are peak times that are so busy and then down times where we can stop and assess what we could have done better and celebrate our successes. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of the rush.

What sort of education or experience do you need for your job?

I have a Master’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resources Management. Most people looking to work in HR will need a relevant Bachelor’s degree, and there are also several common certifications in the field. In my opinion, certifications are not as important, at least in smaller communities. A Bachelor’s and experience is more important in terms of marketability. It’s also very important to keep up with current employment laws and trends.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

My customer base is the employees – I get to have an individual impact on the lives of my people and I really enjoy that aspect of my job. I also do a lot of community outreach with employees – we work with local organizations and schools to create programs that positively influence or affect our employees and our business and I find that very rewarding.

What’s the most challenging part of the job and how do you deal with it?

Human Resources is an essential function, but sometimes we don’t get the recognition we deserve. Previous employers have viewed HR as simply a personnel function. It can be challenging to prove yourself and department as a trendsetting and proactive function of the company.

Specifically in Manufacturing, we have a lot of diversity in the workforce, particularly in terms of education. Part of my job is to understand how to relate to all different types of people and bridge the communication gap. It can be challenging but very worthwhile.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

You have to have thick skin. Often you have to be the one to deliver bad news and people can take their anger out on you. If you are thinking about a career in HR, you should be doing it for the intrinsic rewards – working every day to make positive changes in an individual’s life is very rewarding. Make sure you get a Bachelor’s degree and take some sociology and diversity classes. Also, have a good support system – peers as well as professional organizations.

There are a lot of career options within Manufacturing – Purchasing (materials management), Controller (CPA), Frontline Managers, etc. – you just need to pick something that calls to you and understand that you can work your way up if you put in the work.