Tactics to help attract, retain manufacturing talent

Attracting and retaining top talent for the manufacturing industry is more challenging than ever. Employment is up, U.S. unemployment is at a 10-year low (falling to 4.4 percent this year) and baby boomers are reaching retirement age and exiting the workforce. The global supply of high-skill workers is not keeping up with demand, and, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, there may be a potential shortage of more than 40 million high-skill workers by 2020.

Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry is suffering from a perception problem; eligible recruits fear layoffs, associate the industry with a “lower status stigma” and see better opportunities in other occupations. To mitigate these issues, companies should get creative to entice the next generation of manufacturing professionals.

Here are some ideas to help improve recruiting and retention:

  1. Differentiate

During recruitment, reinforce the fact that manufacturing jobs often pay better than other unskilled or semi-skilled labor positions. According to IndustryWeek, fast-food workers stand to make $10 to $15 dollars an hour, while a new manufacturing employee could make $15 to $25 an hour.

Another area for differentiation is workplace culture. Articulate the improved safety standards, collaborative environment and use of state-of-the-art technology in job descriptions.

  1. Partner with local schools

Some companies are beginning to conduct focused outreach at local high schools, community colleges and technical schools. By working with school counselors, manufacturers can identify students with the skill set and desire learn more about technical pursuits. Another route is to offer sponsorships, internships and/or apprenticeships. These programs provide a hands-on experience without the full commitment of employment.

  1. Re-evaluate benefits

By 2020, millennials are expected to comprise 50 percent of the global workforce, so they will have significant influence in the work experience. According to Ernst & Young, millennials are the generation most likely to change jobs, give up promotions or take a pay cut to have flexibility in their work. In order to attract this talent, manufacturers should reconsider paid-leave and scheduling policy.

For example, Globe Manufacturing of Pittsfield, New Hampshire, allows its first-shift employees to choose from start times between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Although around 80 percent still choose to begin the day at 6 a.m., they report satisfaction with the freedom of choice.

  1. Update sourcing technology

Consider pairing with a partner firm that can provide modernized recruitment technology and expertise for your company.

For example, many workers in the U.S. speak English as a second language. Some recruitment technologies offer multilingual career sites to ensure all information about the company and its jobs is understood correctly. A good partner will also help you consolidate your records and process, such as moving application materials to an online portal to help you keep track of strong candidates. Lastly, a technology partner will help you craft a social media strategy. More than 3 billion people around the world use social media each month, with 90 percent of users accessing preferred platforms via mobile devices.

Recruiting the next generation of manufacturing workers won’t be an easy feat. But, with a renewed approach to HR and talent management, the industry can find its future leaders.

Cathy Callahan is the New Jersey market executive for commercial banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.