On February 18, 2021, millions of people around the world watched as Perseverance, the Mars rover launched by NASA seven months earlier, parachuted down towards the red planet and landed on the floor of the Jezero crater. It was a momentous milestone in space exploration, the beginning of two years of sample collection that would seek to discover signs of life on Mars.
To be able to complete its entry into Mars’s thin atmosphere, Perseverance needed to be protected by a custom heat shield that could handle the intense entry temperatures, which can reach a mind-boggling 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit. Without the shield, the rover would have melted on entry.
The shield was designed and built by Wichita, Kansas’ Spirit AeroSystems, one of the world’s largest designers and manufacturers of aerostructures for commercial and defense aircraft. With operations in the U.S., the UK, France, Malaysia, and Morocco, Spirit supplies fuselages, integrated wings and wing components, and propulsion components to companies like Boeing and Airbus. Spirit also works with defense programs and was named a supplier for Aerion to make components for a large, supersonic jet.
The company employs around 18,000 staff globally. They range from highly skilled aerospace engineers and shop-floor technicians to accountants and the global facilities specialists who ensure that the company’s hundreds of buildings around the world are maintained and ready for operations. The company’s main facility in Wichita is home to over 10,000 employees, making Spirit the largest employer in Kansas.
While Spirit’s engineers and technicians navigate complex considerations and calculations to build top-quality aerospace products, the company’s People and Culture team navigates the complexity of managing and engaging a large, diverse, and widespread workforce.
Managing global payroll is one of the team’s top challenges. Spirit’s workforce is represented by several unions, all with their own pay requirements. Each jurisdiction the company operates in also has different rules and laws. Spirit needed a robust managed payroll solution that could help it pay valued employees properly and on time, help support compliance adherence in the jurisdictions where it operates, and access the information and insights it needs to drive business forward.
Spirit partnered with Dayforce in 2017 to bring the company’s international payroll onto a single system with Dayforce Managed Payroll. The company started implementation with its international sites in 2017 and went live in the U.S. in 2019.
Spirit’s workforce is largely comprised of hourly manufacturing employees who work on the shop floor building products. Seventy percent of the company’s U.S. employees are nonexempt. The rest of Spirit’s workforce is made up of engineers and administrative and support staff. In total, the company has 380 wage types, 50 pay types, and works with nine labour unions.
“We have an extremely complex payroll system,” says Clay Heidel, Director of Total Rewards and HR Services. “Prior to Dayforce, we had multiple systems. It was difficult to pull data from those systems, and there wasn’t an understanding of those particular systems from a U.S. perspective.”
With a global payroll solution, Spirit can pay employees in all its locations, deliver a single user experience, and centralize global pay group data across geographies. The configurable and flexible rules engine also allows the company to put standardized processes and internal controls in place and help support compliance adherence. And with access to an experienced team of specialists, Ceridian helps provide the company the information and confidence it needs to run its business.
“I think what I love the most about Dayforce is the flexibility and ease of use, and the fact that it integrates into other systems,” says Jeana Scott, Global Payroll Manager. “The implementation team was very knowledgeable in the Dayforce product and was able to provide solutions to our complex payrolls.”
Many of Spirit’s clients are governments and large contractors with stringent financial and compliance requirements. Having Dayforce helps Spirit stay in line with taxation and audit requirements to keep its business secure. According to Sam Sackett, Spirit’s Senior Manager of Government Relations and Corporate Communications, this further helps reduce risk when contracting with government entities. “Payroll compliance is complex. We live in an ever-changing global economy with new rules and new jurisdictions changing all the time. It's essential that we have a partner like Ceridian and a platform like Dayforce to help us manage those complexities in everything from tax law to Department of Labour rules and regulations all tied to our payroll,” he says.
Streamlining processes through a single system has also created efficiencies in Spirit’s payroll department. The company has been able to reduce its headcount needs for payroll processing in non-U.S. sites.
“Any savings that we get, whether it's $100,000 or $100 million, it adds up,” says Heidel. “Even if we don't use those efficiencies to reduce our headcount, we can take those same employees and upskill them to do other things for the company. Having Dayforce as a partner allows us to focus our time and our energy on building products versus on payroll processes.”
Just like every component of an airplane must work perfectly in tandem with the rest of the system in order to take off, much of Spirit’s work depends on its ability to achieve a high level of collaboration within the organization and with external partners.
While it operates a highly sophisticated global business, prior to Dayforce, the company didn’t have the visibility it needed into payroll across jurisdictions to make smart staffing and business decisions. It could sometimes take weeks for payroll staff to get the information they needed to answer questions.
Today, the team can produce real-time reporting and views into pay activity by country and region to keep management informed and drive data-focused decision making. The system also helps to reduce risk to the organization by limiting access to sensitive information.
“One of the biggest benefits for us of having Dayforce Managed Payroll is the ability to pull reporting visibility of what is going on at each of our locations outside of the U.S,” says Heidel.
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With more support for compliance and data visibility, the company is better able to focus on addressing the recruitment and retention challenges created by the tight labour market.
“One of the biggest challenges Spirit faces domestically as well as internationally is attracting a qualified workforce,” says Sackett. “Our workforce is diverse, and it's becoming more and more challenging to hire the right skill set for the jobs that we need filled both today and into the future.”
As the company continues to expand and require more highly skilled talent, it needs to sharpen its focus on the employee experience to retain talent and recruit new skilled workers. One of the ways Spirit demonstrates its care to its employees is through reliable payroll.
“Payroll is about more than just paying your people,” says Scott. “You're creating a relationship with your employees and helping them with their day-to-day lives. Paying our employees accurately and on time is very important and lets them know they are valued.”
Spirit’s success with Dayforce Managed Payroll led the company to implement Dayforce Workforce Management, with the first phase happening in the U.S. and one of the company’s UK facilities. It’s another way Spirit is supporting recruitment, retention, and compliance and driving efficiencies.
Spirit currently has multiple systems for workforce management that have been pieced together over the years and that don't talk to each other. This creates inefficiencies, lost time, and errors.
“Implementing Dayforce Workforce Management will allow Spirit to eliminate duplication of timekeeping inputs from employees and to a variety of systems that are hand-built here at Spirit into one best-practice global solution,” says Heidel. “It’s going to improve efficiencies for both our employees as well as our management team.”
Heidel and his team expect that implementation of workforce management in the U.K. will reduce headcount by an additional three staff and save the company more than £100,000 a year.
Having strong structures on the ground is what makes it possible for Spirit’s business to soar high.
Through its partnership with Ceridian, the company is confident it has the systems and support it needs to take care of its employees and run its business at a high level of sophistication.
“Ceridian has been fantastic in terms of their ability to meet Spirit where our need is,” says Heidel. “They've bent over backwards to make changes in the configuration, and they've met us every step of the way to help us get to the implementation that we need.”
Spirit is now better able to focus its attention and resources where they need to be: on leading the way in aerostructure innovation, development, and production.