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How to Find - and Keep - Skilled Workers

With skilled manufacturing workers in short supply, companies must be creative in attracting them and also need to start retention efforts from day one.

Feb/Mar 07
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Offering tours of your facility is also the first step of another process that's becoming very important in hiring: retention. While retention programs used to kick in at the three- or five-year employment marks, the shortage of skilled labor brings retention to the forefront. Smart employers hire with retention in mind.

For those charged with staffing new facilities, that means devoting the required time to fill each position with someone who is a good fit for the job. The same rules apply whether you're filling five positions or 500, according to one expert.

"One of the biggest reasons for turnover in any organization is a lack of clarity concerning the job requirements and expectations," says Stephen J. Blakesley, author of Strategic Hiring: Tomorrow's Benefits Today, and president of Global Management Systems, a human-resource consulting firm.

Blakesley says those in charge of staffing new facilities should begin by examining each position and developing a one-page job expectations sheet. More than just a job description, this document includes clear expectations of what is needed and the minimum acceptable standards, he explains. This document can also be used in the interviewing process - another aspect of the job search that Blakesley feels might be circumvented when hiring large numbers.

"The second reason for high turnover rates is a mismatch between the job and the person's skills. Hard skills, like CAD or computer experience, can be measured with a good assessment. Soft skills, like interpersonal skills, can show up in job interviews," Blakesley says.

"All of these steps will help a new facility start with a much better handle on employment and retention," explains Blakesley. "Yes, this does require a little extra time and a little extra expense up front. [However], consider that each hourly worker you replace during the first year will cost 1.2 times the hourly salary just in replacement cost. That doesn't include the lost productivity. A small investment on the front end pays very big dividends on the back end."

Jodie Sue Kelly, another Cygnet Associates consultant, couldn't agree more. "Retention begins on day one," she says. "The first days someone spends in your company will make the difference between an employee who stays for a year or two and someone who stays for decades."

Kelly even proposes a pre-hiring orientation. The goal is to make sure people are not surprised on the first day of work.

"It's all about managing expectations," Kelly says. When applicants know what to expect, they'll be able to make a better decision - for both themselves and for your company. No surprises should be waiting on the first day of the job. This includes everything from where they'll be eating lunch to the kind of floor they'll be standing on.

A human resource manager for a new facility - someone who needs to find 500 production workers in a few months - may be tempted to make the process as short as possible. By considering a few small adjustments to the process, however, Kelly believes the high turnover rates (and resulting production delays) that often plague a new facility can be negated.

Orienting New Hires
A complete pre-hiring orientation gives the employer a good chance to know more about potential employees; pre-hire orientations also give much more information to applicants. They're then better equipped to decide if the job is a good fit. The chances that someone will show up on the first day and permanently leave after lunch can be greatly reduced.

"A good pre-hire orientation does have some assessments built in, but they also have some group activities that give applicants a better chance to absorb some information. These orientations have better results," Scannelli says.

A pre-hire orientation should include a plant tour, a chance to talk with supervisors, and information about the company's product. The latter shouldn't just be restricted to PowerPoint slides, but should actually give employees the chance to handle products and show them the role the plant plays in the company's mission and its service to customers. If you make a valve, what does the valve do? Why is your company's valve the best? You may think that information isn't needed to inspect or to work at the shipping dock, but it does make employees feel as though they are part of a team. And that makes it more likely they'll stick around more than a few years.

To get a head start on retention, Scannelli suggests that applicants actually be given a preview of their job. Give an applicant the chance to observe the environment and the pace of work. This may not always be possible in a new facility, when hiring may begin before machines arrive. If that's the case, go back to your video.

Another possibility is to fly in a few line workers from other facilities who can describe a day on the job and answer questions. Stress the importance of honesty. When an applicant truly knows what to expect, the chances that he or she will show up for the first and second day rise dramatically.

Will these steps slow down the hiring process, perhaps even delaying the opening date of your new facility? That's not likely, according to Kelly.

"This is really a much more productive process than doing individual orientations," Kelly says. She also encourages companies to invite spouses to learn about the prospective company.

"When you're hiring a person, you are also hiring a person's support group. If I'm an employer, I want to get that person's buy-in as well," she explains.

Don't be disappointed when everyone who goes through a pre-hire orientation doesn't join the firm. The small expenditure of time involved in the orientation will be recouped in savings from reduced turnover costs.

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