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Creative Recruiting Might Help Close the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Faced with a dearth of skilled workers, some companies are looking to high schools and community centers to find manufacturing labor.

Q2 2024
With historically low unemployment, droves of baby boomers “aging out” of the workforce, and other factors, companies in every industry have been struggling to hire enough skilled workers. Manufacturers have faced unprecedented labor shortages and a growing skills gap.

About 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the industry was already facing a potential labor crisis — a projected 2.1 million unfulfilled jobs by 2030 resulting from a lack of skilled labor, according to a study by the Manufacturing Institute.

To compete in this challenging marketplace, manufacturing companies both large and small are revamping their employee recruiting and hiring processes, using a combination of focused, sometimes non-traditional strategies, and leading-edge technology.

For multiple reasons, manufacturers' ability to recruit good workers has “probably never been worse,” says Lloyd Graff, owner and president of Graff-Pinkert Co., an Illinois-based maker of machine tool equipment.

“We have been seeing company after company choosing to go out of business because they can’t get workers. But there are many companies that are thriving today. Those are companies that, through various methods, have found ways to get and keep high-quality employees,” says Graff.

Manufacturers “are having to be incredibly creative and look for ways to differentiate themselves, whether they are moving into a new market or already have a facility there,” says Larry Giggerich, executive managing director with Ginovus, an Indiana-based consulting firm.

2.1 million — that’s the projected number of unfulfilled jobs by 2030 resulting from a lack of skilled labor, according to a study by the Manufacturing Institute Building a Pipeline
To establish a better pipeline of manufacturing talent, it's necessary to look beyond the short term, experts say.

Along with recruiting recent college and trade school grads, one of the best ways to establish a talent pipeline is to establish relationships with local high schools. Some manufacturers are creating partnerships with school districts “to get kids to start working (part-time) in these facilities after school, to learn different tasks and get paid,” Giggerich says. “In some cases, a student may dual enroll in an industry-recognized certification program,” Giggerich says. “When that student graduates from high school they may have the opportunity to go straight into that manufacturing environment.”

Graff cites one small manufacturing company that visits local schools to speak on the positives of working in manufacturing and “how people can make a good living even if they choose not to go to college. Successful companies today are paying people well,” Graff says, citing salaries of $80,000 to $100,000 or more for a skilled screw-machine operator. The same company also hires high schoolers to work part-time after school and learn about the business.

Scot Forge, an Illinois-based forging manufacturer, recruits MBA student-teams from Northern Illinois University to work on solutions for problems at its plant. The students experience how a manufacturing facility works and learn about possible manufacturing career opportunities. Meanwhile, Scot Forge gets a team with new ideas to solve its problems and the chance to recruit talented, well-educated workers.

Reaching Out in the Community
To meet growing demand for its climate-control equipment, manufacturer Daikin Applied Americas has been expanding its workforce for plants in rural Faribault and Owatonna, Minn. The company has used such non-traditional strategies as making recruiting visits to women's shelters and immigrant support groups, according to an article in the Minneapolis Tribune. The company has also instituted an open-door policy for applicants who have no high school degree or manufacturing experience.

Daikin has also partnered with a community college and other post-high school education programs to offer a free, 40-hour training program to anyone with a high school diploma or GED degree.

We have been seeing company after company choosing to go out of business because they can’t get workers. Using technology to reach job-seekers, manufacturers are increasingly choosing intelligent texting rather than email. In a survey of manufacturers by Jobvite Inc., an Indianapolis software and recruiting corporation, nearly 70 percent of manufacturing job seekers reported that they prefer to receive a text message over email and phone calls. One manufacturer, Hearth & Home, implemented the use of intelligent messaging via texting and successfully increased response rates nearly 50 percent above their traditional communication channels, according to an article from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Attracting Younger Talent
For manufacturers. one of the keys to attracting younger, career-focused generations is emphasizing their employee training and workforce development offerings, so current and prospective workers understand how they can grow with the company. For example, Andover, Mass.-based Schneider Electric created the Schneider Electric University to train employees at various levels within the company. The company also maintains Energy University, which is a free online platform where employees can choose from more than 200 knowledge-based courses in more than a dozen languages.

To address the skills gap, companies are turning to the newest technology. Training workers in new technologies is the focus of many companies. Charlotte, N.C.-based Honeywell International Honeywell Technologies is using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to help companies onboard and train workers.

“We have live video streams that we provide to employees through their helmet, vest or hard hat,” Honeywell VP Eric Seidel told “It’s like having someone right there looking over your shoulder who is a subject matter expert.” Generative AI can be used to customize training materials based on specific job roles, site conditions, or regulatory requirements.

To target specific populations, virtual (online) hiring fairs are a low-cost strategy. Last year several manufacturers — Atlas Copco, Niagara Bottling, and WestRock — partnered to hold a virtual (online) hiring fair aimed at military veterans. The fair featured more than 1,800 open positions, according to the Manufacturing Institute.

Lack of diversity in the workforce has plagued the manufacturing industry for decades, especially gender equality. While the industry has made progress in improving diversity, studies show that globally women make up less than 30 percent of the entire manufacturing workforce. To interest more women in manufacturing jobs, manufacturers need to assess their job offerings and adjust their workplaces to build a diverse workforce, according to HR consultants.

Have your managers go out on the shop floor and talk to people and you can develop a sense of community within organization. When you develop a team, people tend to stay. To address one of the major workplace trends, more manufacturers are offering flexible work schedules to production workers, according to a survey by the Manufacturing Institute. One manufacturer was trying out different shift options, such as four-day workweeks (with slightly longer workdays), adding a Sunday second shift and scheduling rotating shifts. Other companies organize teams of “floaters,” who work limited hours on different shifts and acquire a large variety of skills.

Employee Retention
Another prerequisite for success is retaining valued employees. To reduce employee turnover, one of the most vital strategies is to “connect with your workers,” Graff says.

“Have your managers go out on the shop floor and talk to people and you can develop a sense of community within the organization. When you develop a team, people tend to stay,” Graff says. Conversely, “if they feel they are just there to put in their hours and collect paychecks, they'll be gone for 25 cents hour more. But if they feel loyalty to the company, it's totally different,” Graff explains. “We've had many employees who have stayed for 20 or 30 years and brought family in to work here.”

“Ask your workers how you can improve…what you can do to make the job better,” Graff advises. “Talk about your profit situation and what is going on with the company. There are companies that pay bonuses for a good quarter. Your employees will get a sense of being part of the company.”

“Having an engaged team and workers only happens with a people-first mentality,” says Aneesa Muthana, president of contract machining manufacturer Pioneer Service. “When you take care of them, you become successful because you have an engaged team that has your back,” she told the Manufacturing

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