Tips for Filling Skilled Manufacturing Positions

The next generation of manufacturing involves a highly skilled workforce working strategically within a knowledge-based economy. Finding and retaining such qualified employees is possible with the right approach.

Jennifer Neumann of Foley Lardner
Jennifer Neumann of Foley Lardner

Many companies in the discrete and hybrid manufacturing industries are having difficulty finding qualified individuals to fill skilled manufacturing automation positions. Having jobs that need filling is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. It may stem from the fact that young people entering the workforce were, for a while, discouraged from looking to the manufacturing industry, as its resurgence was not widely predicted. Or, the current generation of new workers may not be attracted to what they (often mistakenly) view as low-paying, physically-difficult, mind-numbing manual labor jobs.

Additionally, the highly-skilled automation roles utilized by next-generation manufacturers often demand workers with college degrees, sophisticated technical training and/or apprenticeships. Educational institutions have not necessarily equipped potential employees with the skills to meet the needs of this evolving, and increasingly high-tech sector.

To combat this problem, employers must develop a long-term employee strategy that includes identifying future needs, developing a plan to meet them, and sticking with the strategy in spite of short-term pressures. Key to this will be taking the right approach in hiring and working to retain employees.

Manufacturers must adapt their recruiting methods to today’s environment by, for example, leveraging social media and recruiting talent from overseas. New graduates need to be convinced that manufacturing offers a long-term career path.

Employers in should highlight online, in their job postings, and at recruiting events that they are truly next-generation manufactures—that their employees have the opportunity to use and leverage technology to make their jobs easier and products better.

Employers should utilize videos on their websites that show skilled manufacturers at work in a variety of jobs so applicants can get a better sense of all the varying ways they will spend their workday, and how much technology will play a role in their work.

Take the time to make sure your job descriptions are detailed and truly capture the work—maintenance technicians may now, for example, need computer skills to fix high-tech equipment. Of course, always ensure that your hiring practices comply with the law.

Choose the right interviewers

As time consuming as it can be, the interview process itself can offer much insight into an applicant’s personality, skill set and potential. Make sure that you have the right people interviewing candidates.

Your interviewers should have engaging demeanors and should be knowledgeable about the job you are seeking to fill. This should provide them extra insight as to whether a particular candidate will be a good fit and enable them to convince the candidate to come work for you. Remember, skilled candidates may have many jobs to choose from and will be interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them.

Employers should consider taking the long view and investing in their employees by training them in the technical skills needed when they cannot find an already-trained applicant. There is a risk, of course, that employees will take that training and move elsewhere, but employers can work to create a positive and high-energy work environment that encourages innovation and addresses generational changes. This will go a long way toward both attracting and retaining key talent.

Help your employees feel invested in the work environment and your products, and they will be less likely to move elsewhere. Consider making use of such morale-building techniques as naming an “Employee of the Month” or having lunch brought in on particular days. Such efforts may seem minor, but can positively impact retention by helping employees feel valued.

Retention will also improve if employers do their best to resist regular, demoralizing reductions in workforce to meet short-term profit goals. And when reductions are necessary, do them carefully with an eye on preserving the needs of your automation professionals.

The culture should reward achievement, through compensation and intangible recognition, as well as make quicker, but fair, decisions to end the employment of non-performers.

With proper planning, onsite training and concerted retention efforts, employers in manufacturing industries will find themselves with a busy, talented, vibrant and creative automation workforce, ready to embrace all that technology has to offer.

Jennifer Neumann is senior counsel with law firm Foley & Lardner and a member of the firm's Labor & Employment Practice and Automotive Industry Team. Foley counsels manufacturers on the transformational issues facing the industry as technology and manufacturing continue to converge through its Legal Innovation HubSM for NextGen Manufacturers. Ms. Neumann can be reached at jneumann@foley.com.

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