Hands On: Manufacturing Needs A New Look

By Hal Halliday, H2WMA Board Member

Ask any manufacturer in the Midwest how things are going and you will hear the same thing: “I can’t find anybody to hire.” For the most part, business is good, but the ability to do business is still tough. Skilled workers are moving to metro areas or choosing options other than manufacturing. The “gig” economy has compounded this dilemma, with companies like Uber making it attractive to “be your own boss,” even though nothing could be further from the truth. These aren’t better jobs, you see. They’re just better looking jobs.

To attract new workers, manufacturers are going to need to change their image. Few young people relish the idea of punching the clock at a factory and grinding out eight tedious, unchanging hours anymore. Here are some ideas that we can borrow from other industries in order to show potential employees how modern manufacturing has evolved.

The Tech Industry

Technology doesn’t just make a process more efficient, it can make workers more engaged and productive as well. Traditional logic used to say that employees need to “concentrate on work” when they are on the job. Like it or not, the world has changed a lot in the past fifteen years. It isn’t enough for a modern worker to have connections to those who share their workspace. They’re used to being connected to the world, especially their friends and family. Forcing isolation on someone like that is a recipe for unhappiness. Instead, put some thought into how you and your management team could put that connectedness to work. Does it really matter if workers check their social media once in awhile? If not, let them. In fact, you could create an internal contest where employees are rewarded for encouraging their friends to apply. Or perhaps you simply create a hashtag about your latest company event and ask workers to share photos of the fun. Prospects who like what they see will be more inclined to apply to a manufacturer that looks like they take good care of their employees.

The Service Industry

Just like accountants or salespeople, skilled workers want their employer’s help with career development. They want a career path that is straightforward. You don’t necessarily have to implement an entirely new business structure to accomplish this. You just need to make sure that the structure you have in place is fair, easy to understand and compelling for someone who is just starting out. Make it clear to them what they can accomplish if they complete certain goals. Give them the opportunity to take part in advanced training. Show them what it takes to earn a promotion. Many young workers want to become better at their jobs, as long as there is motivation – and training – to do so.

Higher Education

Colleges are now recruiting the minute a student enters high school. That’s a four-year head start if you are waiting until graduation. As we know, higher education isn’t for everybody. Many workers are more likely to thrive in an environment where skilled, hands-on work is rewarded without the need for long hours in the classroom. But we need to show them how fulfilling that choice can be before they commit to another path. Get to know your local high school guidance counselors. Identify an outgoing person in your HR department or on your management team and make it their job to attend career fairs – and arm them with materials that make your jobs look interesting, fun and rewarding. Sponsor and attend high school events (not just sports). The sooner you connect to potential young hires, the more trust you will earn before they make their big decision.

Why do so many young people shy away from joining the skilled workforce? Because their view of a job in manufacturing is based on old-fashioned misconceptions. It’s time to polish up the image of skilled labor. By doing so, we’ll make today more productive and tomorrow more promising.