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The Hardest Manufacturing Jobs to Fill & How to Find Skilled Workers

How do you measure the extent of manufacturing’s ongoing hiring challenges? The skills gap, that troublesome imbalance between the skills required for available manufacturing jobs and the experience that workers in the talent pool possess, seems to be widening. In one study, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute projected American manufacturers will need to fill 3.5 million jobs by 2025, but they predict 2 million spots will go unfilled due to a lack of skilled manufacturing workers.

Large numbers of Baby Boomers are retiring, and young workers who can do their jobs aren’t entering the workforce at a sufficient rate. According to the same study, jobs in skilled production, a field that includes roles for machinists, operators and technicians, will be hit hardest as Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce.

Recruitment experts have faced these challenges directly. Alex Patel, the executive director for Recruitment and Placement Solutions (RPS) at Staff Management | SMX, noted that the shortage of skilled production workers has been climbing for years.

“Several reports indicate that a talent shortage for these skillsets continues to rise from one year to the next. Some of these skillset shortages just hit a seven-year high,” said Patel.

So, what do you have to do to recruit people to your organization who can perform these hard-to-fill manufacturing jobs? Fortunately, you can take concrete steps to close the manufacturing skills gap at your company.

1) How does enhancing the workplace culture of your manufacturing operation help you fill skilled production positions?

It’s as basic as the principles of supply and demand. If there is a similar opening at two different manufacturers, the top candidate gets to choose where to work, and they’ll join the organization they perceive to have a better culture. Even once they’re in the door, a gifted machinist who grows dissatisfied with an organization’s culture can pick up and leave for another opportunity.

What steps can you take?

From the interview stage to retention initiatives for tenured workers, there are steps you can take at every moment along the journey. Providing an attractive job offer could pique a candidate’s interest, and the interview will be your opportunity to showcase the kind of positive culture your candidate should expect on the job.

“Keeping the interviews conversational has been really helpful for me to retain candidates’ interest,” said AJ Domingo, a direct-placement recruiter for RPS at Staff Management | SMX.

Obviously, human resources leaders and recruiters can’t improve the day-to-day culture by themselves. It’ll be important to work with operations leaders and other managers in the plant to implement new policies that improve culture. Once you have their support, there are lots of different initiatives you can implement.

The first area where you can improve culture is by demonstrating trust in your workers and being responsive to their concerns. With your operations leaders, look for areas where you can afford to give autonomy back to skilled workers, and pursue opportunities to facilitate more conversation among workers as well as between workers and management.

Kathleen Davis is the managing director for RPS at Staff Management | SMX, and she believes companies achieve a stronger overall culture when they show workers that their contributions are valued by the company.

“More sophisticated companies will see how valuable the overall talents of skilled manufacturing workers are, and those companies will offer incentives,” said Davis.

Your workers will also be more engaged if they view their work as meaningful. Do your operators and technicians see the impact they have on your customers because of the products they help create? If not, you should build policies that connect these workers to the results of their labor. For manufacturers, positive culture means appreciating the importance of the things they make.

2) How can partnering with trade schools in your region help you fill skilled production positions?

In the past, we’ve talked about the benefits of community partnerships for manufacturers. We focused on how establishing relationships with vocational schools and community colleges helps develop the overall workforce readiness of a community or region. These partnerships also serve as ready-made recruiting platforms to find and hire skilled manufacturing workers right at the beginning of their careers. This is especially important for machinists, operators and technicians. A chief reason these jobs remain open is because workers who have greater seniority are retiring and new workers have yet to join the ranks.

What steps can you take?

To help you connect with institutions in your area that provide training in advanced manufacturing skills, it can be beneficial to forge partnerships with other manufacturers, both at the local level and nationally.

Working with larger industry organizations can be beneficial for your company. Industry groups lobby at the state and national levels for additional resources, which is why members of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) testified before the U.S. House of Representatives recently, where they pushed forward potential solutions for the skills gap. Ultimately, successful national lobbying efforts can lead to more opportunities in your area.

National trade organizations also provide blueprints for how to go about creating bridges in your community, like this guide from NAM. Reach out to other manufacturers in your area too. You can join forces to develop assistantships and increase your outreach. In the end, you and your competitors all have a vested interest in furthering the workforce readiness of your community.

As long as you offer a strong culture and robust career opportunities, you only stand to benefit when you work with other manufacturers to build school-to-career pipelines and generate enthusiasm for skilled trades.

3) How will extending your outreach to veterans help you fill skilled production positions?

During their military careers, many individuals receive advanced training on specialized equipment. These skills are often transferable to skilled manufacturing jobs like machining. Additionally, when individuals transition from the military to civilian life, they’re on the search for new and rewarding career opportunities.

What steps can you take?

In addition to developing relationships with vocational schools and community colleges, you should reach out to military bases in your area. You should also work with institutions and participate in events that are designed to help veterans transition back to civilian life and secure work. If you don’t already have one, you should start an internal veteran-focused organization for current workers. If you make sure this group knows about your job openings, they will likely share that information with other veterans in their networks.

But how do you develop a military-friendly recruitment program? The U.S. Department of Labor has a helpful guide that spells out specific steps you can take to better reach veterans. One best practice is to improve your job descriptions and applications to make them work better for veterans. You can replace certain requirements, like the number of years the applicant must have held a certain position, with carefully worded descriptions of core competencies, like a detailed list of the skills that workers need to possess. Write down what the applicant needs to have mastered, not how long they need to have performed a specific job.

Also, make sure the form you use for self-identifying as a veteran is phrased accurately. Many people who have served in the military will not necessarily call themselves “veterans” if they served during peacetime, or for other reasons. The form should ask if they have served in the military, not if they’re a veteran.

For additional insights, check out “Best Practices for Hiring Veterans,” a helpful ebook created by PeopleScout, a fellow TrueBlue company.

The skills gap will likely continue to affect hiring decisions in the coming years, and manufacturing jobs in skilled production will experience some of the highest burden due to the large number of Baby Boomers exiting the workforce.

Make sure you’re ready to find and recruit the machinists, operators and technicians of tomorrow by following these tips to enhance your organization’s culture, build connections with partners in your community and reach out to veterans.

At Staff Management | SMX, we’re always looking for creative ways to increase engagement among our associates, improve culture for our manufacturing partners and build community partnerships. Find out how we used these strategies to help one client decrease peak-season overtime in their staffing program by 150 percent.

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