Even though rumors of the robot uprising have been exaggerated, the reality is that several jobs must still brave the perils of automation. Some will weather the storm, others will either fade or reinvent themselves. But the jobs in jeopardy may not be the ones you think. An examination published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) presented an updated list of the positions most precariously placed in the path of increasingly intelligent machines. They included finance, legal, sales, engineering and IT, and even politics. Meanwhile, we’re seeing a renewal in roles required to build and maintain these advances. Industrial positions in manufacturing, construction, energy, and health continue to grow. So, yes, It’s actually a great time to forget all the sexy tech for a minute and consider the need for industrial staffing. But with high turnover and the challenges of sourcing, we also need a strategy.
The industries of the industrious—those responsible for making material goods—experienced a wide berth of noteworthy surges last year. Employers created 37,000 new manufacturing jobs in July 2019, according to the Labor Department—the most of any 12-month period since April 1995. The nation’s manufacturers also produced nearly $6 trillion in gross output in 2017, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Industrial jobs outpaced white collar jobs, according to October 2018 employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 54,000 professional and business services roles compared to 24,000 in transportation and warehousing, 23,000 in construction, and 18,000 in manufacturing, for a total of 65,000.
Writing for Reuters, Dan Burns and Howard Schneider pointed out that factory employment openings fell by 12,000 this past December, “but in the last 10 years it rebounded overall, with nearly 1.4 million production jobs created, the most since the 1960s and reversing a three-decade trend of losses.”
Despite some cooling off after the huge peak between 2018 and 2019, the demand for industrial roles persists. As of October, the Labor Department reported, close to a half-million positions remained open in the space.
“Instead,” wrote Jeff Cox for CNBC, “it’s more a case where the manufacturers themselves are having a harder time filling positions. The hire rate was down more than 18% as the industry struggles with a skills gap and a slowdown amid the pressure of the U.S.-China tariff battle.”
Needles in Haystacks
Finding industrial workers with the right skill sets isn’t as easy as one would think. Talent with the experience and acumen to master manufacturing roles don’t congregate in the same social networks that most recruiters use. They may post their resumes on traditional job boards, but staffing professionals would be hard pressed to locate these candidates on professional- and IT-focused sites such as LinkedIn. Beyond that, Cox explained in his article, the manufacturing industry has lost prospective candidates with the global rush toward all things digital:
“Until we have a better-trained, more-skilled workforce, which is not really out there, you’re going to have a lot of these positions open. It’s a challenge,” said Steve Rosen, CEO of Resilience Capital Partners, an investment firm that owns a diversified portfolio of manufacturers. “There are job openings, and they are very tough to fill.”
Retention poses another problem for industrial clients, as Tom Magnarelli illustrated in a piece for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Julie Niederhoff is an associate professor of Supply Chain Management at the Whitman School at Syracuse University. She said lots of cities across the country are getting these types of distribution centers, used by companies like Amazon. While they do create jobs, she said the number of employees who stay for more than a year is really low.
“There’s very few people who actually survive to the two-year point in their contract,” Niederhoff said. “They have a lot of good benefits available to employees. But most of them don’t come into effect until one or two years into employment.”
Manufacturing Solutions for Recruiting and Retention Challenges
Hiring the Handy
With so much concentration on technology, people have forgotten about the vital contributions of manufacturing and industry in the march toward innovation. But even when skilled talent exist, it’s not easy to recruit them through the sources staffing professionals have grown accustomed to over the past few years. Building a pipeline can be easier when partnering with associations, institutions, or groups that work closely with manufacturing workers.
- Build alliances with local trade programs, technical colleges, and even high school shop classes to get in front of potential candidates.
- Identify new members of the workforce to see which have industrial aptitudes or have expressed an openness to learning them. A well-crafted training program can do wonders here.
- Collaborate with local employment development offices, career coaches, and hiring fairs.
- Give presentations or workshops in community colleges and trade schools.
- Participate in or sponsor mentoring programs.
- Target job boards online as well as around universities, state run employment divisions, and economic development councils.
- Partner with groups that offer apprenticeships or job training outreach.
Although manufacturing talent are not likely to be LinkedIn power users, social media remains an effective recruitment tool, according to Monster: "When it comes to recruiting, manufacturing companies should utilize technology to connect with a more digitized workforce. Social media is one tool that you can use to find your workforce among younger generations." You can use social media to:
- Notify people of training opportunities, and to obtain feedback
- Highlight employee testimonials about your company
- Promote company news and initiatives
- Target key audiences and join relevant communities
Retaining Industrial Talent
“Retaining talented light industrial workers during a labor shortage can be challenging,” Todd Cross wrote in IndustryWeek. “Even when a company offers its best possible hourly wage, a neighboring facility is often paying more.” Cultivating and nurturing a robust retention program can make a tremendous difference.
- Ensure a productive, thorough, and engaging onboarding experience that imparts a positive impression about the company culture, colleagues, safety, and processes. Show talent around the facility while providing details on the role and performance expectations.
- Focus on continuing and relevant training. As Cross explained, “The importance of an ongoing training program that teaches employees the skills needed to succeed in a manufacturing environment cannot be overstated. A recent national survey commissioned by the Alliance for American Manufacturing found that 78% of respondents felt it is very important to ‘offer more job training and education programs for workers.’”
- Highlight ongoing skills development initiatives and career paths. If there are advancement opportunities, those should be showcased and planned for. If there are programs to learn or refine skills, discuss with talent how to seize those opportunities. Tuition reimbursement or sponsored education for relevant skills are also incredible incentives.
- Cross also discussed the importance of worker engagement: “Technology such as direct deposit and online scheduling has decreased opportunities for managers to personally connect with employees. As a result, some companies are dedicating a specific employee to directly engage with all workers, both permanent and temporary. This person can welcome new employees and introduce them to the team; gather ongoing feedback; resolve employee conflicts; and coordinate special events such as luncheons, staff parties and after-work activities. When everyone feels like a part of a team, they are more likely to be successful and want to remain in their jobs.”
- Safety first. Manufacturing and industrial environments pose a fair amount of hazards, health risks, and other dangers. Demonstrate how the facility ensures safety through established protocols, deliver comprehensive safety training, and provide tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) that workers will need.
As much as the staffing industry marvels at the wonders of emerging technologies and catchy concepts like “marketplaces” and “ecosystems,” some of the most lucrative opportunities remain in the less glamorous worlds of manufacturing, construction, warehousing, logistics, and other industrial environments. But tapping into this goldmine isn’t without its challenges. Staffing professionals and hiring organizations can reap exceptional rewards by developing workforce programs specific to industrial jobs.