An ongoing shortage of capable, qualified workers is proving to be a major stumbling block for America’s manufacturers, warehouse distribution centers, and assembly facilities — a situation that is exacerbated by the “silver tsunami” of Baby Boomer retirements. We investigate ways that industrial facilities can attract (and retain) more workers.
Take Stock of the Hiring Requirements at Your Industrial Facility
If you’re having trouble hiring a sufficient number of workers at your industrial facility, you are not alone.
A recent study conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte in partnership with The Manufacturing Institute has confirmed this looming gap between the number of jobs and the number of available workers to fill them. The report projects that the manufacturing industry will create 700,000 new job positions in the coming decade; however, about 2.7 million workers are expected to retire during this time period, leading to a shortage of as many as 2 million manufacturing workers.
The potential cost to industrial facilities is large. In a study conducted by Accenture for The Manufacturing Institute, acute worker shortages could drive down the earnings of the average US manufacturer by as much as 11%.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to assess the projected hiring needs for your industrial facility. Can you maintain equilibrium as more and more of your Baby Boomer workers retire? Will you be able to hire enough workers to fulfill your strategic plan? What about future growth?
If you’re coming up short on finding enough workers, you’re not alone. All across the country, from Chicago to Florida and Iowa, employers across all industries are finding it difficult to fulfill their open positions.
Let’s take a look at some of the unique hiring barriers facing industrial facilities and what can be done about it.
What Today’s Talent Pool is Looking For — And What They Avoid
In times past, good industrial jobs were kept in the family – sought-after jobs were often passed from one generation of family members to another; indeed, many companies boasted that they employed third or even fourth generation workers at their facilities.
But times have changed. Whether it’s due to widespread off-shoring of American manufacturing to Asia or uncertainties caused by major restructurings that took place as a result of the Great Recession that began in 2008, younger generations of workers (starting with the Millennials) have, by and large, rebuffed long-standing tradition and shunned employment opportunities at industrial facilities.
A headline in the Financial Times puts it best: US manufacturers struggle to attract ‘cool’ millennials. In the article, Patrick Bass, US chief of ThyssenKrupp, the German conglomerate, says, “in the US, an engineer usually comes out of university after five or five and a half years” and can earn an average starting salary of $45,000 to $50,000 with some debt. But “a certified welder after four years can be earning $85,000 to $100,000 a year without anywhere near the debt. But most households will still say the engineer has a successful career while the welder does not. That’s a fundamental issue we need to work on.” Despite the good salaries offered by industrial employers, ThyssenKrupp finds that many parents are actively steering their children away from manufacturing and other industrial facility jobs in favor of “clean” white collar jobs.
But parental attitudes are not the whole story. The younger generation workers themselves seem to have adopted attitudes toward employment opportunities that are markedly different from those of their parents. The public opinion survey firm Gallup conducted an extensive representative survey of Millennials, the first generation of digital natives to enter the workforce. Gallup identified these six key attitudes toward work that differentiate Millennials from the earlier Baby Boomer generation:
- Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck — they want a purpose.
- Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction — they are pursuing development.
- Millennials don’t want bosses — they want coaches.
- Millennials don’t want annual reviews — they want ongoing conversations.
- Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses — they want to develop their strengths.
- It’s not just my job — it’s my life.
Many of these attitudes were confirmed in a survey that Formaspace conducted in 2018. In our survey, we found that younger workers placed a far greater value on achieving an overall “Life-Work Balance” than their older peers.
As a result, the long-standing reputation of manufacturing and other industrial jobs as a place where workers perform repetitive tasks from 9 to 5 in exchange for a steady paycheck simply doesn’t appeal to enough of today’s younger job candidates.
This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for industrial manufacturing employers.
The challenge is that younger workers want to work in fields which they perceive to be more closely aligned with their values and objectives, such as employment opportunities in the high-tech sector.
But perception lags reality. More and more jobs in the industrial sector are now considered high-tech positions in their own right. The question becomes how to communicate these changes to a wider audience of potential recruits, as we’ll touch on in the next section.
How can Industrial Employers Close the Hiring Gap?
Let’s take a look at six ways that American manufacturers, warehouse distribution centers, and assembly facilities can close the hiring gap.
1. Be the Company You’d Want to Work For
Now is the time to take a look at your company’s facility with fresh eyes. Does it make a good first impression? Would you want to work there? Will it attract younger generation workers or scare them off? What changes can you make to overcome the perception that all industrial facilities are dirty, dangerous, or even threatening places to work?
For inspiration, take a look at the glass car assembly factory that Volkswagen built in Dresden shown in the video above. The facility, which looks more like a high-tech software company than a manufacturing line, built the Volkswagen Phaeton from 2002 until 2016. (The factory is now in transition as an innovation center, pending the launch of Volkswagen’s next-generation electric vehicles.)
As we touched on in the survey reports mentioned earlier, more and more job candidates (particularly younger workers) are also increasingly interested in achieving a life/work balance. As a result, higher salaries may not be the most important motivator; indeed, many of today’s workers place a higher value on having a flexible work schedule, including the ability to choose their own shifts. (This was recently confirmed in a study of 16,000 hourly warehouse/distribution center workers.)
And when assessing the attraction of your facility to prospective new workers, don’t overlook amenities that had been popularized in other industries. The real estate giant JLL reports that industrial facilities are starting to incorporate upgraded amenities, such as cafeterias with a wider range of food options (including vegetarian meals), comfortable break rooms and attractive outdoor facilities, even high-end perks such as climbing walls – all in an effort to attract workers.
2. How to Compete Against Technology Companies for Talent
What can manufacturing and industrial facilities do when so many of the job candidates want to pursue a career in high-tech? The answer is simple: you have to educate the prospects with the message that today’s industrial facilities – with their sophisticated robotics and high-tech control systems – ARE high-tech and are poised to become even more so in the future.
The development of a new car model, such as the Ford Mustang shown above, illustrates the increasingly high-tech nature of today’s modern manufacturing facilities
The consulting firm Deloitte has been investigating the future of manufacturing jobs; they’ve identified three, new career categories that illustrate the point that manufacturing is becoming a high-tech industry:
Many companies (not just in the industrial segment) are also creating business startup accelerators in an effort to attract new talent and ideas. For example, Capital One (a Formaspace customer) created a special division to develop its advanced financial technology (fintech) products. GE Appliances launched a combination maker space and business startup facility, called FirstBuild, that incorporates a micro-factory to build limited production runs of new appliance concepts. And the Volkswagen glass factory in Dresden (shown in the video above) has been transformed into a tech innovation center to develop new mobility concepts until it’s ready to resume operations as an electric vehicle manufacturing line.
When competing with high-tech companies for talent, industrial facilities also need to consider how to adjust their benefits packages and pay scales accordingly. Digital Commerce360 reports that Amazon (a Formaspace customer) is providing medical, dental, and educational benefits to entry-level workers at its fulfillment centers. They are also offering salaries to entry-level workers that are significantly higher than the prevailing state minimum wage.
Tip: when competing for recent college graduate talent, consider offering a program to pay off a candidate employee’s student loans.
3. Create a Talent Pipeline
If you are a sales professional, you know the acronym ABC stands for always be closing. But when it comes to solving the worker shortage, we might want to say ABR, for always be recruiting. Whether you’re talking to a stranger on an airplane or standing in line at the grocery checkout, take the opportunity to talk up the benefits of working at your company.
Leveraging Social Media
Apply this same friendly, outgoing approach to your social media efforts as well (if you’re going to go fishing, go fishing where the fish are). Make sure your company is presented in an authentic, positive light on popular social platforms, particularly on the ones that are popular among younger job candidates, such as Snapchat and Instagram. This type of social media outreach can help leverage your other referral-based recruiting activities by extending your reach to a larger potential audience.
Manufacturing Day at Schools and Other Events
More and more companies are creating a talent pipeline that begins in high school (or even in elementary schools). Events such as Manufacturing Day or bring your kids to work day are an important tool for generating awareness at a young age when students are beginning to think about career possibilities. For example, a positive experience during a Scouting group visit to your facility might inspire a young person to consider a career in manufacturing one day.
Apprenticeships, Internships, and Mentoring Programs
A key part of a talent pipeline is to establish internships, apprenticeships, and mentoring opportunities for young people to help them learn about the opportunities as well as to help them prepare for successful careers. More and more industrial companies are seeing the value in creating close relationships with community colleges and other vocational education institutions. Opportunities include sponsoring training programs, offering scholarships, or underwriting facilities, such as Makerspaces, which can attract STEM students who are interested in “making things” as a career.
Finally, it’s important to train your existing employees on how to engage with potential new recruits, starting with the interview process. Don’t squander an opportunity by making a poor first impression. Make sure the new potential employee is welcomed and always escorted in person from meeting to meeting.
4. Expand Your Pool of Applicants
Recruiting More Women
Female employees are often underrepresented at manufacturing and industrial facilities. While women represent nearly half of all US workers (46.6%), fewer than 25% of employees at durable goods manufacturing companies are female. If this is the case at your facility, recruiting more female employees could help alleviate the skilled workforce shortage. Read our special report on how to encourage more women to work in manufacturing and other industrial facilities.
Diversity and Inclusion
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, has an excellent step-by-step guide on how to create a Diversity and Inclusion program at your facility.
Veterans are often overlooked by many companies (however, not at Formaspace, we have quite a few veterans on staff). Many vets have a background in logistics or working with mechanical equipment that makes them ideal candidates for working in manufacturing facilities or warehouse/distribution centers. Take a look at the Hire a Veteran toolkit from the United States Department of Labor for more ideas on how to find and hire qualified veterans.
Consider Offering Second Chances
Many human resources departments complain that they are unable to find qualified candidates that can either pass a background check or a drug test. There’s not much do about the latter, but when it comes to the former situation, e.g. background checks, you may want to take a closer look. Traditionally, most employers automatically eliminate any candidate with a past felony record from consideration, but today, an increasing number of employers are taking a look at low-risk felons to offer them a second chance.
5. Don’t Drive Good Employees Away
Recruiting and hiring new employees is only part of the picture.
It’s even more important to retain the employees in which you have invested time and money.
Don’t drive them away with a poor work culture that undermines your efforts to help employees grow and be successful. Read our special report on how to create a better culture at your manufacturing facility.
It’s equally important to ensure that your workers are safe and healthy on the job. Workplace accidents can be prevented. Formaspace offers a rapid plant assessment that can help you identify inefficiencies and safety concerns that could put your employees at risk.
We also create custom, ergonomic furniture solutions that help your workers perform their daily tasks more easily and efficiently. Examples of this furniture include sit-to-stand desks and workbenches that accommodate different sized individuals, custom packing stations that reduce the number of steps required at warehouse distribution centers, and mobile carts with built-in lifts that help prevent injuries due to back strain caused by listing heavy objects. Contact your Formaspace Design Consultant to learn more about how we can help your facility work more efficiently.
6. Bring People Together for a Better Future
The most successful companies don’t look at hiring to fill individual job position; they look at creating an overall team that works together while leveraging each individual’s strengths.
Job applicants can sense this, and if they can’t sense it from an interview, they can research it on websites, such as Glassdoor.com, a very popular website among Millennials which provides unvarnished reviews from employees working at your organization to learn how life would be working for your company.
As a mentioned at the beginning, younger generation workers place a high value on training and career growth. So investing in individuals must be a foundational part of your overall recruiting program.
Consider creating a co-mentoring program that helps employees learn to grow on the job. We also mentioned earlier, the idea of offering a program to pay off past student loans; offering paid education programs to learn new skills is something that you should consider as well to help employees take on greater responsibilities and be successful in their career path at your company.
Formaspace Can Help You Attract and Retain Talent
If you can imagine it, we can build it.
Formaspace is a leading manufacturer of industrial furniture for manufacturing assembly plants and industrial facilities of all kinds, from material handling solutions to custom ergonomic furniture that helps your employees work more efficiently without injury.
All our products are American-made, manufactured at our factory headquarters in Austin, Texas. We deliver the highest-quality products possible, with short lead times and 100% on-time shipments. The vast majority of our products are destined for Fortune 500 companies or college and universities (we count over 350 collegiate customers, including most of the Ivy League schools.)
Take the next step. To see how we can work together, contact your Formaspace Design Consultant today.