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Hidden in Plain Sight

By: Adrienne Selko, Industry Week


Sometimes process gets in the way of progress. While well-tuned processes can be credited with creating success, they can also restrict the field of vision. Limitation has been, for the most part, a standard mode of operation in how manufacturing companies recruit employees. They tend to return to the same venues and the same processes in their search for talent.

However, this tried-and-true road to talent acquisition misses enormous swathes of the total talent pool—candidates who are ready to work and who possess unique skills that the manufacturing community desperately needs, but who are all too often missed in this traditional scouting process.

The challenge now is to revise and renew recruiting practices to tap into these talent resources that have been hiding in plain sight. One common term for this candidate pool is the “non-traditional talent.” But using this term misses the point. Viewing the workforce as a bifurcated entity—traditional versus nontraditional— is a continuation of the same limited perspective that omitted these workers in the first place. Finding talent, of all types from all sources, will be the key to solving future challenges manufacturers will face.

For some companies, this isn’t news. They have already been sourcing talent from a variety of pools to find the diversity of talent they need.

Neurodiversity at P&G Finding such talent isn’t as hard as it looks. For example, Procter & Gamble’s neurodiversity centers started when Laura Becker, president of Global Business Services, saw a news report touting the unique abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum. “I was running the finance and shared services division at that point in my career, and we needed a lot of STEM talent,” Becker said. “It’s a challenge since the demand is greater than the supply for these jobs.”

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Becker reached out to Ernst & Young as the consulting firm had already set up programs to employ neurodiverse talent. (The term neurodiverse talent generally encompasses people who are on the autism spectrum.) E&Y, in a publication called “Neurodiversity: Driving innovation from unexpected places,” concluded that people who are neurodiverse are often “technologically inclined and detail- oriented, with strong skills in analytics, mathematics, pattern recognition and information processing.”

In addition to these qualities, E&Y found that this group of workers were tenacious, loyal and, most importantly, able to approach problems “differently and that their logical, straightforward thinking can spur process improvements that greatly increase productivity.”

Armed with that information and other metrics from E&Y, Becker felt she had a strong business case that matched the company’s goal of further increasing the diversity of the workforce.

“It’s important to understand the unique skills that this group is able to bring to the company,” says Becker. “And it also benefits the neurotypical population that works with these employees.”

In 2019 the company set up a neurodiverse program in Costa Rica. The program consisted of an internship that offered qualified candidates jobs upon completion. Other centers are located in the UK and Singapore. And last year P&G opened the Neurodiversity Smart Automation Center in Cincinnati, where the company is tapping the talents of individuals on the autism spectrum to help drive innovation.

“Collaboration is key to creating a program like this, and that includes working with area nonprofits,” advises Becker. P&G worked with Specialisterne, which provided job training, and Easterseals, which provided coaching on soft skills.

The programs have been a success from several angles. The retention rate for people hired in from this program is 100%. “We have seen improvements in productivity,” says Becker. And she notes that for these employees the speed of learning a task is higher. “This group of employees has the ability to be very innovative,” she says.

Compelled to Do More Recognizing that talent comes in various forms is something that Jamie Johnson, senior director of operations at Dorman Products has done as well. Johnson assists workers who are dealing with addiction issues.

The catalyst for Johnson to advocate that Dorman, which manufactures automotive aftermarket products, support current and potential employees dealing with addiction was a personal experience. Johnson and his wife adopted a little girl who had been displaced from her home because both parents struggled with addiction.

“I came to the realization that this is one child and one family, and there are hundreds of people in Kentucky and across the United States, who are dealing with this epidemic, and I felt compelled to do something more,” explains Johnson.

Statistically, Johnson knew that people in his own plant were dealing with this epidemic, either personally or though someone they knew. However, manufacturing plants generally maintain a zero-tolerance policy for addiction in the workplace.

“That attitude is just ignoring the problem that already exists in our places of employment,” says Johnson. “We have to recognize the problem, understand it and, more importantly, do something about it.” Johnson created a nonprofit called Stand with Us, which is comprised of employees at Dorman and other companies. The organization provides wraparound services, which means working with a person who is ready for recovery through their journey and back to employment.

“We encourage employees who know that their drug test will be positive to instead come forward and ask for help,” says Johnson. The company will refer them to the nonprofit and help them recover and come back to work.

Aside from helping companies keep valued employers, this program has created such a strong sense of engagement that Johnson’s company has seen improvements in productivity, quality and safety.

“Another of the many benefits of having a program like this is that your company gets a reputation for caring about the community in which they operate, and this in turn attracts the next generation of workers who want to work for a company that truly cares for its people,” he says.

Finding Partners to Source Candidates Attracting future talent is a challenge in Dorman’s home state of Kentucky and the regional economic organization is right in the middle of assisting its manufacturing community.

“The No. 1 challenge manufacturers are facing in Northern Kentucky is hiring,” says Lee Crume, CEO, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED. “This (worker shortage) presents an opportunity for them to explore a more diverse hiring strategy that includes non-traditional individuals, such as those with disabilities, a criminal record or history of addiction, in addition to immigrant communities. Northern Kentucky’s workforce initiatives are led through a collective impact strategy with a cradle-to-career model. By bringing together manufacturers, educators and social services organizations, we are working to meet employers’ hiring needs while improving the quality of life for all who want to work.”

Collaboration is often the mechanism that brings diverse hiring programs to companies. For example, Close the Loop, a sustainability company that specializes in the take back and recovery of hard to recycle material, found employees who are in transition through an organization called Life Learning Center.“. After meeting at a job fair, the organization contacted Tom Kelly, human resources manager at Close the Loop. Life Learning Center offered to provide Close the Loop with candidates who had been through a 12- week program that involves preparing the person for employment after overcoming issues.


Those challenges could include housing, transportation, financial or other personal issues, and Kelly says that his company is proud to provide opportunities and guidance where needed.

“It’s been a smooth process bringing this talent to our factory, as we have people at our company that have similar experiences so they understand the challenges that people might have,” says Kelly. “What’s key is to keep open the lines of communication. People might have to change schedules due to outside checks on their progress, and we want to accommodate that.”

Helping people aligns with the company’s goal of helping the environment. Just as the company closes the loop while recycling waste —it hasn’t sent anything to a landfill since 2007—it wants to be an integral part of helping people who are reworking their lives and seeking employment.

While hiring transitional employees is relatively new, hiring individuals with disabilities has a longer track record. In fact, in 2015 the National Organization on Disability started awarding its Leading Disability Employer Seal. The seal—which has been given to such companies as Boeing, Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin, Eli Lilly & Co., General Motors—is a “public recognition applauding organizations that are leading the way in disability inclusion and tapping into the many benefits of hiring talent with disabilities, including high rates of productivity and dedication, and greater employee engagement across the workforce.”

Higher productivity is something that Jason Schweitzer, human resources manager at ABB Optical, can attest to. As the company continues to grow in Kentucky, including a new fabrication lab opened last year, ABB Optical decided to bring over a program to hire disabled people that had seen success in its New York location. The results have been positive. “They have been model employees,” says Schweitzer. “Just outstanding workers.” He says his experience echoes what he hears from other companies—that this population is very focused on the job, they are very efficient, and retention is very high.

Part of the program’s success is that its employees are treated the same as any other employees. “Our goal is to increase this population as we want to have a more inclusive workforce, and it’s a good source of talent,” explains Schweitzer. A New Approach on Talent Sourcing Finding talent to fill open manufacturing jobs has been an issue for many years and will continue to be as older workers retire and manufacturing competes against other sectors for a smaller pool of talent. But when companies expand the definition of the talent pool, as these companies have, it will go a long way toward filling those gaps.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a shift in how companies view talent, specifically talent who are disabled. “Companies were often hesitant to hire disabled employees as they were unsure of how to properly equip the workplace to accommodate this talent, and also how to adjust the procedures in dealing with a different population,” explains Carol Glazer, president of NOD. “COVID-19 has opened up a whole new perspective as far as how companies view this talent.”

With people working from home, the issue of building an infrastructure for this talent is erased because people can set up a work environment that is optimal for their particular circumstance.

Glazer also encourages employers to “look closer.” NOD has turned this phrase into a social media campaign, #LookCloser, by asking employers to see the talents of the 20 million Americans who have disabilities.

“The skills necessary to find innovative solutions for businesses to remain competitive can be found in this group of talented people,” says Glazer. “This group, due to circumstances, have proved to be persistent, tenacious and adept at problem-solving in order to live their lives. These are exactly the skills businesses are looking for, and this group brings those same talents to the workplace.” NOD works with companies to help them begin or improve their current workforce policies. With the motto of “disability inclusion is a choice,” the group recently released a Disability Employment Tracker. Companies can access this free assessment tool, which is based on employment policies from more than 200 companies in NOD’s database, to benchmark their employment policies. Assessment categories include strategy, metrics, climate and culture, talent sourcing, people practices, and workplace tools and accessibility.

Just as disability inclusion in the workforce is a choice, inclusion of any type of talent is a choice. And it’s one that companies are continuing to make. In choosing to hire people who have been unable to contribute their talent, companies are experiencing the benefits these groups bring to the table. Perhaps more importantly, companies are able to elevate people and communities. Dorman’s Johnson said it best: “We consider ourselves a transformational employer. We’re here to help people rebuild their lives.”

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