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Skills Gap Isn’t the Only Workforce Challenge

Image Credit: Marcin Balcerzak/Shutterstock.com

In recent years, there's been much talk about the “skills gap” facing the manufacturing world. The problem is, this is only partially true. Yes, there’s a deficit in our skilled trades pipeline, and we as employers, educators, and communities need to rally around the value of skilled trades, supporting the growth of this critical workforce — starting in junior high, if not earlier. But there’s another issue at play for mid-market manufacturing: the strategic gap.

Historically, manufacturing hasn’t had to look far for employees. There was always a good pool of skilled labor, at a reasonable price, and they came to companies with minimal effort. The challenge today is that the environment has changed. Unemployment is low, so it’s now an employee — not an employer — market. This means that the up-and-coming workforce has more power, more options, more choices, and can make more demands on employers.

Whether you feel this is “right” is immaterial. If you need to get strong talent into your organization, you need to start doing these five things immediately:

1. “Sell” Your Organization — You need to sell your organization, the role needing to be filled, and the value of being a part of your company to potential employees. And just like a potential customer, you need to frame your sale around candidate interests and needs.

This starts with understanding what potential employees are looking for. Ask them, and then develop a strategy to meet those needs. Remember, you are competing for talent.

2. Shore Up Your HR Skill Sets — Is your HR team flipping through resumes and looking for keywords, or evaluating candidates based on their skills? Your HR team needs a clear strategy for assessing organizational talent needs and a well-thought-out plan for assessing candidates against the skills needed for the role.

I recently interviewed a CEO of a construction company, and he noted that they would only consider applicants with five specific previous titles in their work history. Titles vary from organization to organization, but skills are the real transferrable value. It’s crucial to have a clear-cut strategy for effectively evaluating and vetting candidates’ skills.

3. Look Outside Your Traditional Recruitment Channels and Approaches — So you’ve flooded the major internet job boards with listings, but you’re still getting little response or lackluster candidates. Why?

Firstly, you’re likely not “selling” the position. Is the job listing focusing on dry duty details and providing a canned overview of your company? Or does it communicate excitement and value to the potential employee? Are you telling them about the opportunities for learning new skills? Mentioning upward mobility? Highlighting the impact of their role? Plain and to-the-point just don’t cut it anymore.

If you’re still having little success online, go where your candidates are. You may want to attend trade schools or job fairs, or even hold your own open house. Again, just like prospecting for customers, you need to prospect for employees; they won’t just come to you.

4. Look Beyond Your Traditional Competitors — Your competitors are not just other manufacturers. I recently spoke with the vice president of operations at a regional manufacturing company, and he noted that they struggle to secure talent but offer very competitive salaries. Here’s what I found: Compared to similar, smaller manufacturing companies in the area, the company's rates can be up to 12% higher, but compared to the local Costco (yes, Costco), they are almost 22% lower.

In addition, the company offers less flexibility in terms of hours, time off, and benefits. Not all potential candidates are seeking a position in the manufacturing industry, in particular — especially when they may be able to find a better-paying, more flexible, and higher-growth job in another industry.

5. Re-Examine Your Expectations — Though not everyone is motivated by salary, it’s critical to understand what your expectations are as an employer and if they are reasonable for the market.

I spoke with a manufacturing CEO who said he was having a hard time finding welders — but he said he was looking for 15 years of experience at $14/hour, someone who would not call in sick, come to work early, and just “keep their head down and stay quiet.” No doubt, he will be hard-pressed to find the talent he needs.

Filling the Strategic Gap

The manufacturing recruitment and retention game has changed drastically. Staying competitive requires organizations to look beyond the basics and get creative in attracting skilled individuals and analyzing potential candidates. If you truly want to overcome today’s workforce challenges, you need to first fill the strategic gap.

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