Recruiting processes, no matter the industry, are relatively standard. In a way, you can think of it as similar to a Christmas tree. The tree itself is mostly the same from location to location, but specific details about it change; the size, the position, the decorations. In recruiting, the framework and the processes are the same, but the specifics vary from industry to industry, by scale, and by skill level.
Manufacturing, as may be assumed, has specific considerations for successful hiring. Even these considerations are changing as the entire industry adapts to modern business pressures, adopts new technologies, and adjusts for the New Normal of the pandemic and post-pandemic world.
“Seasoned workers are aging out of the workforce, and replacements are getting harder to find, which increases costs. Compound this with a growing need for hard-to-find roles like health and safety engineers, which take twice as long to source and hire as line jobs like assemblers and fabricators.
Companies need talent today. But they also need a plan to diversify their workforces for tomorrow. Employers will face a massive shortfall of labor if they can’t attract more young and female talent away from other industries.” – iCIMS
Whether you’re hiring a few skilled workers or volume hiring to fill a new facility, hiring within the manufacturing industry has specific considerations that must be attended to in order to be successful.
Understand the Challenges
Manufacturing is not a glamorous industry. Traditionally white-collar, manufacturing jobs are often misunderstood and underappreciated, despite the high level of skill necessary to perform under pressure, within regulations, and in dangerous environments, all while operating heavy machinery. There are several challenges to overcome.
At the same time, manufacturing is an industry with lower-than-average turnover, higher loyalty, and often a lower barrier to entry.
“Manufacturing jobs are not considered luxurious. These jobs are not as highly sought after as other means of employment. However, they do typically require less experience and education. Workers in manufacturing are some of the most loyal in the country. Employees within manufacturing companies have the highest average tenure among all major industries as of January 2020, with workers averaging about 5.1 years at a single company.” – Workbright
The challenges involved in hiring within the manufacturing sector are interrelated.
The Image Problem
Many people have a poor view of manufacturing as an industry. Younger people and women, in particular, tend to view it in a negative light. They see the jobs as having a short lifespan, particularly as automation continues to take over. They view the labor as unglamorous, back-breaking, and harsh, with a mental image of middle-aged factory workers suffering from a range of health issues.
This isn’t helped by frequent scandals within the industry, poor treatment of workers, and a continued shift of many manufacturing jobs overseas. All of this compounds into an image problem for those hiring for domestic manufacturing roles.
While these concerns should certainly not be considered commonplace in this industry, it’s a good idea to consider them when structuring your recruitment process.
Another challenge the manufacturing sector faces is the skill floor for success is rising. New hires often lack skills that, while they used to be optional, are now required to function at a basic level within the industry. Many schools do not adequately prepare students for entering the workforce, and indeed, many applicants for manufacturing jobs do not have formal schooling in manufacturing in the first place. Requiring those skills to apply dramatically limits your candidate pool.
The Threat of Automation
There’s no question that automation is taking over many of the simplest roles in the industry, and this is part of why the skill floor is rising. Many workers in manufacturing no longer handle manufacturing tasks directly; they work on the robots that perform those tasks.
“For example, the BBC shared that robots could replace up to 20 million jobs by 2030, and TIME shared that machines and AI could have replaced up to 42% of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Automation is a huge concern for workers right now, and manufacturers must address it.” – Workbright
Understanding the concerns facing both the sector as a whole and the candidates applying for jobs within it is critical to success in your recruiting efforts.
Combat the Image Problem
Acknowledging the image problem isn’t enough. Your company has to fight it actively. Typically, this means establishing a careers page and website that presents an image that acknowledges the image issue and actively refutes it.
- Feature testimonials from employees. Aim to pick testimonials that refute specific aspects of the image problem most relevant to your company.
- Show off diversity throughout your organization. Use images and choose testimonials that portray a diverse workforce, including varying genders and ethnicities.
- Acknowledge the paradox of manufacturing. Despite the image issue, many people also have a nostalgic fondness for the industry, which you can leverage in your messaging.
You don’t need to refute the problems that plague the industry; you merely need to convey that your company has found solutions to those problems that put the worker first, insulating them from risk and challenges.
Be Prepared to Offer Training
A significant percentage of applicants within the manufacturing center may have little or no formal education or training in the industry. While this eliminates them from the running for higher-level positions (unless they have the experience that prepares them for the role), it doesn’t mean you can’t hire them effectively.
The best solution is to offer training as part of your new employee onboarding package. There are plenty of candidates out there with the motivation, intelligence, and capability necessary to perform above expectations in a role once you assist them in gaining the skills necessary to do so. Don’t ignore candidates because they lack the skills that you can give them.
Part of this means constructing a detailed candidate profile that draws a distinction between qualities and skills necessary for a candidate to have and those that are nice to have but can be trained or provided.
Build Your Candidate Pool Even When You Aren’t Hiring
Shake-ups in the manufacturing industry seem to happen every few years, whether it’s new automation technology or global shifts in perception, or unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Many manufacturing companies were caught flat-footed by the pandemic in 2020 and suffered massive setbacks as a result.
One way to help insulate yourself from these changes is to keep your hiring pipeline active regardless of whether or not you’re currently hiring. Keep your careers page active, continually build and filter your candidate pool, and hire at low volumes as necessary to keep your onboarding process fresh and active. Then, whenever the unexpected happens, and you need to implement volume hiring, you’re already ready to go.
Offer Tangible Benefits and Treat Employees Well
Part of the image problem of manufacturing is that the “machine” of the industry churns through employees as little more than cogs, uncaring and unconcerned about their well-being. While some companies do act that way, yours should not.
The key to this is providing the compensation and benefits package your employees need to thrive. Adequate pay is just one part of this package. You should also consider:
- Adequate and flexible time off for stress reduction, health recovery, and time with family.
- Retention and referral bonuses. Additional compensation for loyalty encourages long-tenure employees.
- Investment and retirement options. Providing high-quality retirement benefits helps fight the “burn out and discard” impression many people have of the industry.
- Responsive feedback channels. Employees will suffer a lot when they have no recourse, but it increases turnover and burnout while reducing employee engagement and loyalty. Maintaining channels for feedback helps combat issues and leads to better working conditions from top to bottom.
- Offer advancement opportunities. Training and investment in the skills of your employees help increase their value, but advancement opportunities help keep them around for long-term careers.
Critically, these are all flexible. Consider your niche, your location, and the needs of your specific employees when developing your compensation package. Offer people what they want, and be able to adjust and customize benefits for each employee.
Leverage Paid Apprenticeship Programs
While relatively little formal schooling exists for many manufacturing roles, you can establish job training and apprenticeship programs to encourage it. Paid apprenticeships allow you to recruit unskilled workers or even students fresh out of high school or a trade school and train them on the job for the work they would be doing.
By paying for an apprenticeship, you attract more candidates, especially those wary of unpaid internships in other sectors.
Look For Additional Candidate Pools
Candidates can come from a variety of backgrounds you might not anticipate. Students are a common population to draw on, but you can also seek applicants from other groups. The military is one such under-tapped market.
“Every year, 250,000 service members leave the armed forces. Most of them don’t have careers or jobs lined up as they transition to the civilian world. Marketing your apprenticeship program to overlooked talent pools like Military Veterans is a great way to give back to service members while also building a talent pool for your company. Data also shows that Military veterans stay longer at their companies. There are many great reasons to hire them.” – Mya.
You can also leverage various forms of community outreach to tap untapped groups within your area.
Partner with Feeder Agencies and Organizations
There are a lot of different channels you can leverage to fill out your candidate pool. The military is one such organization, but you can also develop partnerships with:
- Schools. High schools, trade schools, and community colleges can be great locations to find skilled, intelligent individuals willing to pursue a manufacturing career.
- Outreach and Aid Organizations. Communities often have outreach and aid organizations dedicated to assisting individuals with getting back on their feet after disasters, recovering from homelessness, or other forms of aid. Partnering with them can help you find some of the most loyal and diverse candidates you’ll find.
- Recruiters. Recruiting agencies are overwhelmed as people struggle to find work after the pandemic. Working with them can find you a flood of new candidates, which you can then filter down into an adequate candidate pool.
Cast a wide net to broaden your candidate pool, and you’ll have a larger pool to draw from when you need to fill vacancies, be it from standard turnover or industry shake-ups.
Fighting the Worker Shortage
There’s currently a crisis in hiring. Pressures from the pandemic have led to epiphanies amongst millions of workers, who have decided that under-compensated and underappreciated roles aren’t worth the time. There are millions of people looking for work that values them as people and their time as important, but overcoming the disconnect between the impression of manufacturing and the reality of your company can be difficult.
A key aspect of overcoming these difficulties is improving your messaging. If people don’t know what they can expect out of your company, they’ll resort to their impressions of the field, which may be inaccurate. As such, robust job advertising and well-formed job postings go a long way towards overcoming this disconnect.
Remember, as well, that your existing employees are often one of your greatest assets. They know better than anyone the realities of treatment within your company, the duties and skills necessary, the availability of training, and the compensation you offer.
A referral program, incentivized by signing and retention bonuses for both the referrer and the referred, can be an exceptionally powerful channel for recruiting more manufacturing candidates. People intimately familiar with your company can refer candidates with the knowledge that they both benefit if the contract works out.
Regardless of how you’re going about filling holes in your roster or recovering from an employment shortage, it’s essential to use all of the resources at your disposal. Whether that’s leveraging existing employees, offering a compensation package suited to the needs of your candidates, or casting a wide net through partnerships, it’s all worth looking into.
Filling manufacturing jobs doesn’t have to be an arduous task.
Do you have any further questions or comments about manufacturing recruiting and staffing? Please feel free to drop a comment in the comments section down below, and we’ll get a conversation started!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.