Director of Talent Acquisition at Oshkosh Corporation, DJ Braemer gives us a rundown of the good work that Oshkosh does and how he ended up in his current role. Working in the agency setup gave our guest invaluable experience, but he also reveals why he would never go back. You’ll learn about why he chose to go into management, how he discovered his leadership skills through sport, whether he misses the hustle and bustle of recruiting, and why his time in the dark side of HR was a major moment in his career. DJ believes that Oshkosh is an industry leader in diversity hiring and he tells us all about his company’s willingness to provide flexible job opportunities. Do you think that the hybrid module of talent acquisition is one we should aspire to? Find out what DJ Braener thinks by tuning into this episode!
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions, where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.
[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.
[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings, I got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.
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[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:01:00.0] RS: Here with me today on Talk Talent to Me is the Director of Talent Acquisition over at Oshkosh, DJ Braemer. DJ, welcome to the podcast, how the heck are you?
[0:01:08.8] DJB: Hey-hey, doing well, Rob, thanks for having me.
[0:01:11.3] RS: So pleased you’re here, how’s your week been? Has it been crazy, are you under water, are you mitigating the chaos, what’s the state of things for you?
[0:01:18.1] DJB: Yeah, it’s been a good week at Oshkosh. Twice a year we shut down, and one of those weeks is the week of July 4th. So I’m feeling good, feeling fresh, recharged and ready to head back into it next week.
[0:01:30.4] RS: So this whole week was like vacation for you?
[0:01:33.9] DJB: Yeah. Yes, we actually shut down, we’re a manufacturing company, we actually shut down most of our businesses, the plants don’t operate and it’s just at nice time for everybody to collectively step away. The great thing is it’s not like you’re taking individual PTO where you come back to hundreds of emails, we all kind of step away together and you come back to a lot less. So it’s a nice week at Oshkosh.
[0:01:54.9] RS: That’s the only way, to not come back and deal with a huge amount of stress, right? You’re like, the work is still happening even when you’re on vacation and then you just get a ton of emails to answer.
[0:02:04.1] DJB: That’s exactly it. There’s a pleasure of leaving for PTO and there’s also a curse, right? And you’re right, this is the only time you can come back and not feel underwater. So all is good here.
[0:02:14.8] RS: Glad to hear it and also, I’m honored that you chose to spend some of your time off recording, recruiting podcast with me, that’s a very generous of you to use your time that way.
[0:02:22.8] DJB: Yeah, no, I appreciate you having me. Cool opportunity, I’ve had a chance to listen to a couple of former guests and was just really into the concept and the show, so I’m happy to be here.
[0:02:33.1] RS: Yeah, happy to have you, there’s lots for us to go into, of course. So being from the Midwest, I thought I knew what Oshkosh Corporation does. However, you are completely not related to the Oshkosh B’gosh children’s clothing brand. Nothing to do with Oshkosh Corporation. I’m sure it’s a common misconception because how many times do you see Oshkosh, that word.
But anyway, you are a complete different organization. Would you mind, for the folks at home sharing a little bit about what Oshkosh does and then after that, we can get into your role there?
[0:03:01.4] DJB: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so we get that a lot, first of all, you’re not the only one. So we fight that battle even when candidates are jumping into phone screens, it’s kind of funny, once in a while, they’ll think that’s who we are and are surprised when we tell them we’re quite different. So we are a fortune 500 company.
[0:03:15.4] RS: That’s a great way for candidate to confess they didn’t Google you before the phone screen either, right?
[0:03:21.7] DJB: That’s just it. It’s like, it’s a hard thing to come back from, right? When you say, “Oh, baby clothes, my baby wears your clothes, I’m so excited to be doing this” and then you tell them that’s not us at all and not only is that not us, we build military vehicles and fire trucks and it’s just wildly different, right? So but it does happen.
[0:03:38.2] RS: It’s not just a little not us.
[0:03:39.3] DJB: Yeah, exactly, polar opposite, not us. So we are a Fortune 500 company. Last year, we did a little north of eight billion in revenue, we’ve got four business segments that make up our business, 10 different businesses altogether and we manufacture really awesome vehicles. Everything from military vehicles to fire trucks, construction equipment that keep our construction workers at great heights safe, a really neat portfolio of products.
[0:04:06.6] RS: Got it, thanks for that context, that’s helpful, and I would love to know a little bit more about you as well, DJ, would you mind sharing about your background and how you wound up in your current role at Oshkosh?
[0:04:15.4] DJB: Absolutely. Yes, similar to many in our industry, I started on the agency side. So my first four years were spent in engineering and IT staffing company and that’s where I really learned to recruit, and not that I would go back to the agency side and I know some bounce back and forth, but I would never go back and start my career in a different place. I just got so much good experience from that.
So started there, really learned how to recruit, learned how to recruit technical roles which is, many know, also different, and Oshkosh was a client of mine. So it’s really neat for me to see Oshkosh from more of a business-to-business relationship, always admired the company. It’s really easy to get behind the company that is building products to protect our troops, our military, the firefighter, you talk about getting out of bed in the morning, serving a purpose like this is it for me, I just always thought it was so neat.
So, I joined the company after about four years on the agency side, started as a recruiter myself and just worked through different roles over the course of the last eight years. I’ve spent five of my eight years at Oshkosh in talent acquisition. I did leave for about three years and tried a new leadership role within HR, which was a great experience but I’ve made my way back to where it all began.
[0:05:29.4] RS: Got it. It’s interesting, you said you would never go back to an agency world, right? A lot of people get to start that way, very common and also, your story of ending up working for one of the clients you were serving. I love that too because you get that trial process working with them. You get the sense of who other people on the team are, maybe that you wouldn’t get in just a standard interview process.
So I’m just calling that out because for the agency recruiters out there, if you ever want to get out of agency, go in-house. I feel like that’s a great way first, talk to your clients and see if there’s a possibility there but anyway, for you, why are you saying, “I can never go back, it’s just not for me” what’s sort of your decision making there?
[0:06:07.6] DJB: Yeah, I think for me, it was just the grind of it all, right? So I started there, it was before I was married, before I had kids, I was working long hours shirt and tie in the office every day, right? It’s just as a different lifestyle and any type of salary plus commission role, you want to put in maximum effort, but that comes at an expense of your time and so I just saw it as a grind and I was, as a young fresh out of college, again, single, I had the time to do it and I wanted to make a career for myself.
So it was the right thing for me at that time of my life. As I progressed, and I did get married while I was still there and my time started to be split in different ways, I wanted a little more work-life balance and that was attractive to me, at that time, was to make a switch and go to tier point, a company that I had already experienced, not necessarily from within the walls but I had partnered with their hiring managers, I had partnered with their HR teams, I was known to them, they were known to me, it was just a really natural transition for me.
[0:07:07.5] RS: Right, right. So you got to cut your teeth recruiting for technical talent a little bit. You made the individual contributor to management shift, that is common, but I should point out, not strictly necessary, depending on someone’s career goals, but for you, how did you approach that transition? What made you want to pursue the management track?
[0:07:30.1] DJB: Yeah for me, it may be different than others. I have always felt the leadership calling and I make this analogy, I’m a sports analogy guy but I found leadership early in life through sports. So on the baseball field, on the basketball court, football field, that was just a natural role that I played, I liked it and it just, it stayed with me.
So even in my time early in career, as an individual contributor, I kind of knew that leadership was a likely track, and the first time it was put into the realm of possibility, I jumped on it really quickly. I know there’s a transition period where you go from peer to someone to leading them that is very, very difficult.
Fortunately for me, the first team that I led was a team of talent acquisition coordinators. So they weren’t my peer group necessarily so I think that made it a little bit easier for that initial transition, but as far as the leadership components, and that goes into that for me, fortunately, it was pretty natural.
[0:08:27.0] RS: Got it. And then, do you ever miss the actual recruiting piece of it? It’s just such a funny thing. I can never seem to get over it that you get so good at being an IC that then, you get selected to stop doing it. Now, you’re more of the coach for other people, do you get to scratch that itch at all? Do you miss the hustle of actual recruiting?
[0:08:46.6] DJB: Yeah, once in a while, I’ll take an executive role and then I’ll take myself and, so that brings me back and I do still love doing that, but I found joy in that fulfilment in doing it through others, right? So I get to support a team that comes to me with a tough rec to fill or a problem to solve and as I coach them and see them go out there and solve that problem, fill that rec and the satisfaction they get, I feel that too. And so, when you just learn how to get that fulfillment in a different way and for me, it works because I love to see the success of my team.
[0:09:21.7] RS: Yeah, makes sense. So I’m curious, what’s top of mind for you because you have a lot of resources I’m sure, Fortune 500 company, you can tackle some bigger campaigns, maybe then my beloved and beleaguered and often under-resourced head of TAs at sub 50 person companies cannot do. So, what are some of the medium long-term projects and bigger campaigns you’re working on over there?
[0:09:44.2] DJB: Yeah, there’s a lot out there right now, as you know, and this market is one. Certainly, there’s more tenured TA leaders you’ve brought on than myself but I’ve not seen a market like this, it’s just really unique in what all the different components of it and I won’t go into all of that, but I guess there’s a couple focuses that I think make a lot of sense for a lot of companies and things that Oshkosh is doing specifically.
The first one is around diversity hiring. This continues to be a major topic, for good reason. I’m proud of Oshkosh because we’re really walking the walk. I think most companies are at least talking about diversity, equity and inclusion and obviously, the attraction part of TA is what I focus on, but we’re really walking it. We’ve got EBRGs, the leaders of our company are on a diversity council. We’ve got compensation for our leadership team tied to hiring goals of diversity.
So this is just, we’re full in, chips are in the middle and so, my team specifically is, we’re looking at our tech stack, looking at different ways to find that diverse talent, and just really proud of the way the team has bought into this. So a couple of examples, we’ve recently partnered with RippleMatch, really great early talent tool that we’re leveraging. We’re doing diversity training, conscious bias training, things like that and again, it’s the metrics and the goals that are really pushing us to look at hiring through diversity land.
So, I’ll give you just a couple. By 2026, we’ve made it known that we want 30% or higher of our director and above team members at Oshkosh to be women and 15% of director and above to be BIPOC and so these are company goals that we get to play a really big part in and again, the team’s completely bought in and really engaged.
[0:11:34.1] RS: I love hearing that there is executive compensation tied to this. That feels like the only sure way to incentivize it. I mean, you do want to believe that people will do the right thing left to their own devices but you actually want to make an impact, you know, tied to the way someone gets this bread, right?
[0:11:53.6] DJB: Exactly right and again, I think there is an element that most companies are talking about this, which is great. It does start at a conversation level but it’s a whole other thing to take a step to do what we’re doing and not, it’s not just us, other companies are certainly doing this, but it just feels good to be a part of a company that’s really saying, “Hey, this does matter, we are better as a diverse team and we’re going to go put it on the line.”
[0:12:20.0] RS: Got it. So I wanted to ask you also about your time in the dark side, as it’s often called, of HR. I guess before I ask a million follow-up questions, could you just kind of explain that stint in your career?
[0:12:35.5] DJB: Yeah, absolutely. So 2018 is when this all happened and it was a fascinating time at Oshkosh. We had made a really big investment in HR, in people in general, where we went and purchased Workday. So we were going live with Workday in 2018 as our HCM, we later added the recruiting module but as we did that, we also went live with a brand-new team to Oshkosh called global HR services, and this is an HR service delivery team, just a more popular concept I think in the last five years, it continues to be hot on the dark side.
Really, the whole idea is, it’s a center team that is stood up to support the every day team member for HR things, questions, tasks that they need to do, you know, simple things like changing direct deposit or making a benefit change, that type of thing. So we made the decision based on a study we did with Mercer, actually. Where we did an HR, work, inventory survey that showed us where are we were doing really inefficient work. A couple stats came from it.
One, we had way too many people doing the same task over and over again. That was one of them. We had directors and above only doing 20% of the work that they did was director and above work. So they were really punching below their belt where we needed them to be stepping up and doing more strategic work. So lots of things came from the survey and we said, “It’s your service center, it’s what we need” so we brought 80 plus tasks in house into a center-led team, and these are all repeatable tasks that they can do over and over and over again at more of a transactional level.
That frees up the space for our HR business partners, our HR managers, HR directors to go be strategic, work on the next succession plan, the talent development, things like that. So long story short, I joined this team in 2018, brand-new team. I saw it as an opportunity to lead in a new way. I had never led any type of core HR team or work before. I grew as a leader because it was the first time I had to lead work that I had never done myself.
That was a really big moment in my career. It is easy sometimes, as a leader, when you are leading work to dip down and just do the work for your team or to say, “Well, I have done this before, here is how I did it.” It is entirely different to lead work that you don’t really know how to do yourself, and so I grew so much in that three years.
[0:15:02.7] RS: Yeah, that is an interesting call out. I think that is probably the challenge of a lot of leaders, the more senior you get just as natural, the more senior you get the more you’re responsible for, the less likely it is you have a hands-on experience with any of that, particularly with how quickly this industry moves, right? I mean, if you’re a CHRO now, what are the odds you have hands-on experience doing recruiting marketing campaigns, right?
Probably zero, so for you was that a process of just like immediately trying to dive in and learn it or were you surrounding yourself with experts? How did you kind of close that gap?
[0:15:35.0] DJB: Yeah, good question and first of all, I thank Oshkosh for allowing me the space to make that mid-career pivot for a bit, to go do that. I think it takes the right company and support to allow you to do that. I did a couple of things, one is I had to, by default, empower my team more than I have ever done. So I had a team that knew benefits, the new payroll, the new leave of absence, which was kind of the core work I was leading.
So I had to depend on them and empower them more than ever because I had no other choice, but while I’d led them and still helped them navigate their problems and I removed barriers for them, I was also learning all the time, and it is what you said, it is surrounding yourself with the people that do know. It is asking a lot of questions. It is admitting to not knowing the answer all the time, and just being humble in that matter, and I learned so much.
So not only did I learn as a leader and grow as a leader in that three years, what I know and what I am capable of doing now myself is growing a ton as well.
[0:16:35.3] RS: Do you think that HR stint is a necessary tour of duty if you are going to up level and get into leadership at higher and higher levels in the talent space?
[0:16:45.4] DJB: Yeah, I don’t know that I would say it’s a necessary stop in one’s career. I would encourage one to do it. I think, again for me, it happened at about eight years into my professional career roughly and I think it’s opened doors for me. Now, I am back in TA, right? Maybe in my career here but now, I’ve got more options. If I wanted to go do different things and lead different teams, I’ve got some more well-rounded experience to leverage to go do that.
So I think it’s opened doors and again, I just can’t undersell how much you grow as a leader when you lead or you have not done yourself. So those are the two things I think it’s done for me. It made me a better leader and it’s opened doors for me in the future. I just won’t have to make a similar stop, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that that’s true. I mean, there’s heads of talent at big companies that are doing just fine that have been in TA or in talent their entire careers.
But I would, if someone is thinking about it, I would absolutely nudge them to just go do it, get the experience. You can always come back, I did it. They took me back with open arms and here I am today.
[0:17:50.1] RS: Yeah, that is an important callout too, that Oshkosh encouraged that in you, because for a lot of other folks or other companies, what that unfortunately might look like is having to leave the company to go do a similarly leveled role and just to be like, “Hey, I am a senior recruiter” or “I am a head of talent but I really want to go be senior director of HR for a little bit and see how I like it and then come back.” I think some companies might find that a little hard to swallow.
[0:18:17.4] DJB: Yeah and particularly in this market, right? Where people do have a lot of choice and there’s opportunities out there left and right. At Oshkosh, we made the decision and we know that people have these options now. We are working at an internal talent marketplace, where we are going to open up new gig opportunities and short-term assignments. We just posted a brand new role, it is an HR business partner, HR manager type role.
We are selling it as it could be long term if you want it to be or just sign up for 12 months. Come do this for 12 months, we’ll rotate you out after 12 months. It is a great experience to be in a plant, to be an HR leader and then go back and do something different, right? I just think in this market, companies are going to need to be more creative and offer these types of opportunities to their team members to get them new experiences or, to your point, if they feel like to get a new experience they’ve got to leave, they will.
[0:19:11.4] RS: Yeah, frankly it’s a retention play. If an employee comes to you and tell you they want to try something and your answer is no, well, what you are really saying is you can’t have that here and so follow that to its conclusion, right? They go find it somewhere else and I have seen to your point about it being advantageous but maybe not strictly necessary. I have seen some big companies role out HR talent and recruiting as separate functions.
You know, like we have a VP of TA and we have a VP of HR, presumably that means the VP of TA doesn’t have a ton of HR experience, right? Or maybe just not the desire. So I think you can do it and also, as recruiting and talent acquisition gets its deserved respect increasingly, I think we will see more and more senior recruiting titles. I think the reason I was asking about whether it’s a necessary tour of duty is because for a long time, it seemed like the top of this pyramid was like CHRO. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore, do you?
[0:20:07.7] DJB: Yeah, it’s an interesting thought. I think today’s market, and what I have seen, is TA is getting a little more love and respect, which is awesome for all of us in the industry to see. I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to that question frankly. I think one can go many different paths and routes and I just think it’s nice to see that TA now is being built out in talent in general, it’s being built out more probably on the heels of COVID a bit and in the market in which we’re in.
It’s proven itself to be such a necessary leadership role. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.
[0:20:41.3] RS: Yeah, I agree. I think it is just encouraging that seeing more senior type recruiting role or roles with the word talent acquisition or recruiting or people in them, the lessening of the term human resources, which is just—it feels kind of archaic verbally, you know? So yeah, we’ll see. It’s exciting, an exciting time to be in the space that’s for sure.
I wanted to ask you also about this process of lending talent to all the different brands at Oshkosh because even though you have these cohesive company values, every team has its own lilts and some style a little bit. There can be different service centers, and so I am curious how recruiting plays with each one of these different brands and is it able to contribute talent in a meaningful way to each different team?
[0:21:25.9] DJB: Yeah, this is kind of a fun story at Oshkosh because we’ve played with different models. In my time, again, I have been here a little over eight years, and when I arrived in 2014, we were completely decentralized. Every bit of recruitment was done within each business and one year in, in 2015, we centralized. So we bought all of our TA resources into, to be corporate employees and we organized them by function, and they recruited for all of our ten brands across the company.
So, if one did engineering recruiting, they stuck strictly to engineering but they did it for all ten of our businesses, and we operated like that from ’15 until earlier in ’22 where we made a decision to, I say decentralize. I think it is better term to maybe call it like a hybrid model and I’ll explain in a second what I mean by that, but we have seen unity. I watched companies as they benchmark and just work within my network.
I see companies centralize, decentralize and sometimes like Oshkosh, they do both in a small window of time, right? Trying to find that right structure. So it in April of ’22, we actually just went live with this hybrid model where our key partners now report up through one of our businesses. They focus solely on that business, they are recruiting multiple functional areas, so now you may be in a technical space where you’re doing IT engineering, maybe some operations type leadership roles, things like that.
So you’re playing in different functional areas but you are sticking strictly to that one business and the nice thing about this is, we’re seeing already, it’s only been three months but we are seeing the business acumen of our TA partners grow exponentially and business leaders, these hiring leaders are loving it. We’re really invested in the business, we know what’s happening in the business from a new product perspective.
From the major projects and initiatives of the calendar year, all of these things were now on the mix on and we’re a part of, so that’s been really nice. Where the hybrid comes in is that this team of TA partners still dotted line reports into me, so we still have this identity as a team. We still have a consistent process, we still meet as a team, we’re sharing talent like with all the technology layoffs lately and kind of a tech world.
We’re sharing, “You know, this company has laid off 10%, let’s go. Who is going to go find the engineering talent there? Who is going to find the IT talent there?” right? We are sharing these kind of industry news with each other. So, this is the best of both worlds.
[0:23:50.1] RS: Yeah and it just feels necessary with the larger a company gets, I think you just have to be a little more bespoke. You can still have some of the team cohesion but even in an example where a company doesn’t have all these various brands, do you see this model working, this hybrid model working at similarly sized companies or under what circumstances would you prescribe this?
[0:24:11.3] DJB: Yeah, I think it is an enabler of a couple of things that I believe are really important for talent acquisition teams and I think to your point, they don’t need to be similar to Oshkosh in size or structure. I think it could be for anyone. So one is the business acumen, I mentioned that earlier, but hiring leaders want to know that you know about their team, about their business, about their work.
As we show up for those intake calls, we call them kickoff calls or meetings, where we’re starting a new requisition with the hiring leader and we already know about their business and we understand the challenges and the hurdles. We understand the projects and the timeline of those projects and the business impacts. We’re already talking on a completely different level than maybe someone showing up saying, “Hey, I’ve recruited engineering for 10 years but I don’t really know what you guys do” right?
It is just a totally different conversation, so we’re elevating our game as a talent acquisition team to be true business partners, strategic business partners in seeking the right talent for their team. I really think that is the main thing, it’s that business partnership and it is kind of taking that step from being a recruiter to a talent acquisition partner or advisor.
[0:25:22.0] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. Cool, well DJ, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here. Before I let you go, I would just ask you to slide us into home here. Would you mind sharing some advice for the folks out there in podcast land who want to wind up at a company with a resources like Oshkosh in a position of leadership like yours, what advice would you give them?
[0:25:40.6] DJB: Yeah, I think look, there is a couple of things that come to mind. I think it starts at a position of just working hard, right? You’ve got to put in the time to perfect your craft, find a company that you know promotes from within. I am eight years into a company, I’ve held five different roles, which seems like a lot but Oshkosh has given me opportunities based on how I work.
So I think it is a lot of that but also make sure you’re—I always tell people this. My bit of advice when it comes to careers is to be selfish. I would never recommend that in most other areas of life but you’ve got to look out for number one. So if you’ve got opportunities in front of you, take them and it doesn’t need to be leaving a company and going to do something different. That opportunity could be joining a non-profit.
Getting out into the community, it could be volunteering, just get involved, be present and I think you’ll stand out and you’ll have opportunities that come your way. You may not even have to look for them.
[0:26:37.2] RS: That’s fantastic advice. DJ, this has been great chatting with you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
[0:26:41.4] DJB: Thanks so much for having me Rob.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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