Profiles in Immigration – Robust Recruitment and Retention Foster Innovation at Global Engineering Firm

“Learn and Teach.”

That simple philosophy is one of the tenets of Structural Group, Inc.’s company culture and can be found throughout the organization. The philosophy, along with a company culture that values teamwork, engagement and innovation, has helped Structural Group become a leading provider of specialty construction and repair and maintenance services.

Structural Group and Hiring Practices that Foster Innovation

Founded in 1976, Structural Group, Inc. has adapted to the changing market by focusing on technology-driven innovations. Its focus on adapting emergent technologies has guided hiring for the company and has required its HR team to find highly specialized and skilled candidates.

Team members, including staff who are currently being sponsored for U.S. work visas, pose for a picture at Structural Group's corporate headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.
Team members pose for a picture at Structural Group’s corporate headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.

Structural Group, Inc. has 35 office locations in the United States and a growing presence overseas. While a vast majority of the company’s 2,500 employees are U.S. citizens, the specialized nature of many positions required the company to expand its hiring pool to foreign nationals. Vice President of Human Resources Kelly Whitson said a robust business immigration strategy has helped fill positions across the United States.

“Even though the primary part of our business is construction, we have evolved into a technology-driven business model,” Kelly explained. “Sometimes, due to the specialized nature of the work or the location of the position, we have to look outside the pool of candidates who live in a particular area and open our search to anywhere in the U.S. – or the world.”

Strategic Use of H-1B, L, TN Visas, and Employer Sponsored Green Cards

Structural Group’s immigration strategy utilizes the H-1B visa program, along with L and TN visas, and employer-sponsored “green cards.” The company often identifies foreign candidates for employment through partnerships with colleges and universities – the F-1 visa offers up to one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization in the United States if the employment complements their undergraduate or graduate degree.

Kelly, who has worked for the company for 11 years, has seen changes to the H-1B program during her tenure at Structural Group. Not only has the H-1B visa lottery become more competitive – an estimated 275,000 applications were submitted for 85,000 total visas available in the 2021 H-1B Cap Lottery – Kelly has also noticed an increase in Request for Evidence (RFE) filings in recent years.

Changes in the immigration landscape have required Kelly and her team to rely on FordMurray for responsive immigration solutions.

“When we identify a college or university student who will be a great fit at Structural, we only have a certain amount of time,” Kelly said. “It becomes a case of how do we get creative with other visa opportunities to keep these valuable team members in the country.”

In cases where an H-1B petition has not been an option, Russell has helped Structural Group pursue other viable H-1B alternatives, including the L-1 and TN visa, and, in some instances, have utilized F-1 CPT programs where an individual returns to pursue a higher degree at a US institution and maintains part-time employment with Structural during their studies.

PERM Process for Retention and Structural Group’s Company Culture

One of the most valuable immigration tools for Structural Group has been employer sponsored permanent resident status – or green card – through the PERM process. Kelly said the PERM process offers tangible benefits to both employer and employee, due to the importance of fit in Structural Group’s company culture.

“If we have had someone with us on an H-1B, we have gotten to know them and recognize their contribution and value they are bringing,” she said. “Culture is a big piece of our employment decisions at Structural. If they are great at their job and a champion of our culture, we don’t want to lose them.”

She said the PERM process helps Structural Group build on success.

“We’ve had a lot of success with employer-sponsored green cards from a retention perspective, and have seen many of our foreign employees go on to have long term careers with us.”

Recently, Kelly was witness to the culmination of a team member’s American dream – becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States.

“We’ve had a lot of success with employer-sponsored green cards from a retention perspective, and have seen many of our foreign employees go on to have long term careers with us.”

Kelly Whitson, VICE PRESIDENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES at Structural Group

“We transferred one of our managers from our Dubai office to our US offices under the L-1 visa program in 2013. He has grown from an Engineering Manager with a few direct reports to a Vice President overseeing technology, engineering, and sales for a very specialized area of our business leading a team of 28,” Kelly explained. She shared the moment her team member told his colleagues about his naturalization ceremony. “We happened to be having our monthly town hall meeting, which is where we have all of the employees based at our corporate office come together to share updates and he was so overjoyed and proud to finally be a U.S. citizen. The entire office gave him a standing ovation! As a company, we were so very proud to be such an important part of his journey.”

Structural Group on Working with FordMurray

Kelly said FordMurray has been a cornerstone of Structural Group Inc.’s immigration success.

“We have been more than pleased with FordMurray’s counsel and advice, she said. “In any petition process, Russell and his team are quick to respond and more than happy to hop on a phone call to talk things through. We find a lot of value working with them, and will continue to do so, especially as our international business grows.”

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