Cover Story: Recruiting New Employees

May 5, 2016 No Comments
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Adaptation is the Key to Changing Workforce Demands

By Nancy Huddleston

toc_features50pxStatistically speaking, the odds are stacked against manufacturers when it comes to recruiting new employees:

  • There’s a shortage of skilled workers.
  • A significant portion of the workforce is starting to retire.
  • There’s a negative image of the industry amongst the younger generation, the largest group of workers needed to fill open positions.
  • The unemployment rate is at an all-time low, so competition for new employees is extremely tight.
  • Human resources professionals are fighting those odds when it comes to finding fresh manufacturing talent as they continually adapt to these challenges at a time when recruiting is harder than ever.

“Despite an increasing rate of pay for skilled labor, only one skilled tradesperson is entering the workforce for every four that retire,” points out Dylan Ballantine, Account Executive and Divisional Practice Leader for Aerotek’s Skilled Trade Division in Maple Grove. “This means that the war for talent has grown increasingly fierce. Most companies are working closely with a staffing solutions company like Aerotek, to keep a close eye on industry trends, and to be able to compete for the best talent.”

“Years ago, you were looking for a warm body … anyone who came in the door with two arms and two legs who could sit at a press,” said Laurie Keate, who has worked in human resources for 14 years at Dayton Rogers of Minnesota LLC, in Minneapolis. “But the world has changed and now we’re looking for a lot of different skills.”

Although the forecast may appear bleak for recruiting new employees, human resources professionals in Minnesota are seeing breaks in the clouds. And they believe they are making strides to begin growing a more diversified and younger workforce.

Since job candidates no longer are walking through their office doors, Volt Workforce Solutions is creating virtual doors to seek them out through social media. Recruiters also are combining social media and e-mail blasts with word-of-mouth and referrals to find candidates. “We realize our audience is extremely tech driven and paperless,” said Brianna Lewis, a Recruiter Assistant with Volt Workforce Solutions. “So we’re going to where they are and seeking new partnerships to find a variety of candidates.”

What that means is recruiters not only set up information tables at opportune times at technical schools, but they also reach out earlier to candidates who are enrolled in certification classes. Recently, Volt Senior Recruiter Ashley Schmidt was at a welding certification class making students aware of manufacturing job opportunities. She said just a few years ago, recruiters were inclined to wait until students finished a class or their schooling; but now they’re making connections earlier in an effort to meet the demand for skilled manufacturing workers.

Aerotek also is staying connected with job and technical school communities, and participating in efforts by local organizations, including the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association (MPMA), to reach out to educate and connect people with manufacturing companies. “It’s extremely important to find creative ways to connect with our upcoming workforce,” Ballantine said. “It doesn’t work to only reach out to our educational institutions when we need something, they need our help too.”

Jenny Wachtel of WSI Industries, Inc. said it’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Partnerships with technical schools, workforce centers, employment counselors, and public school districts are a must. She also uses different types of job posting services to attract a diverse range of employees, such as Glass Door to reach women, state veterans employment services to reach retired military members, and job fairs at trade schools to reach Millennials and people from other cultures.

“We are always striving to get a good mix of applicants, now we’re just getting more creative about how we’re reaching out to them,” Wachtel said. “We always emphasize that the work environment at WSI is clean and temperature controlled. We also stress the opportunities for employee development, cross training, and tuition reimbursement.”
Ballantine said companies need to look past the assumption that an hourly pay rate or a salary is the only thing a candidate looks at when making an employment decision. “In order to improve attraction of new talent and retention rates, manufacturing employers should improve their employee value proposition,” he said, “This could include better benefits, ample holiday/vacation time, encouraging a work/life balance, as well as merit-based compensation, as they compete for the limited pool of skilled trade labor.”

Keate agrees and said Dayton Rogers works hard to make sure employees know they are important. “We’re a family-owned business and that’s very important to us,” Keate said, “We do not just hire temp employees, we hire temp to permanent employees. We want everyone to be successful here.”

Manufacturers are keenly aware that, in order to survive, they must attract Millennials into the workforce and adapt to meet their needs.

Jaci Tweed of Volt Workforce Solutions advises that employers need to offer competitive pay and benefits, flexible schedules, and college reimbursement options. “There are a lot of different career paths in manufacturing once they are done with school and in a job. Millennials want to know all of their options,” she said. “They come into the job knowing what they’ve paid for their schooling, and they want to be a machinist and make $20 an hour.”

What distinguishes Millennials from other employee groups is their clear direction of what they want from the job, according to Keate, of Dayton Rogers. “You can’t ask them in the interview, ‘where do you see yourself in five years.’

They want to know where they are going to be in six months,” she said, “They want to know their growth opportunities, what are the challenges in the job, and they want to know that they can grow in the job. They are aggressive and they will ask, ‘what do I need to do’ to do a certain job.”

While Keate admits that is refreshing, manufacturers need to balance the passion Millennials have for job growth with safety in the workplace, which takes time. “There is a lot of on-the-job training in any manufacturing job and we want to keep our workers safe,” she said.

Ballantine advises that employers cultivate ownership and accountability in their ranks and make all employees feel like they are furthering the company’s mission. “As often as we feel like people are leaving because they got an extra dollar or two somewhere else, just as often it’s because they feel a lack of development or career potential, or they don’t feel valued or appreciated,” he said.

To combat that problem, manufacturing companies are providing development opportunities and recognition programs for their employees. “We started a rewards recognition program to recognize those who go above and beyond and who display our company values,” Wachtel said. “And we also have a referral program so that employees can get a bonus if they refer someone who we hire.”

Another game changer is the competitive nature of the job market, and the low unemployment rate. “The candidates know they are needed, especially those with machining skills,” said Schmidt, “They are asking for good pay rates and benefits and good shifts before even considering the job.”

Schmidt uses that proclivity to promote manufacturing jobs to Millennials by being up front and telling them they can make good money, which is often a surprise. “I also tell them that they will get to know their boss because they’ll be on the floor with them, and may even jump on the machine next to them,” she said.

Tweed, Senior Development Manager at Volt, asks manufacturing owners/employers several hard questions when it comes refining strategies to attract younger workers. “I ask our clients, why not offer higher pay? Or, how about a signing bonus? How about going outside of this market and recruiting from out of state and offer competitive relocation packages? Job seekers are competitive, so they need to be too,” she said.

When it comes to filling open positions, job seekers have a definite advantage over employers.

“Our job candidates who post their resume on job boards on the Web tell us they have five, six, seven responses a day,” Tweed said. “The candidate market is much tighter. Years ago, if you put up a job posting, you’d get tons of applicants and you’d pick the best. Now, there are a lot of job openings, so the challenge is to find the candidates.”

For staffing agencies like Volt, this means it’s a whole new ballgame. There’s no longer a “pipeline” of potential candidates waiting for a call about a job. “It used to be like the old video game, Tetris, where the job candidates would stack up and you’d pick one out at a time. Now it’s like Ms. Pac Man, where the candidates are gobbled up before you can get to them,” said Lewis, who has worked at Volt for four years.

Schmidt, who has been with Volt for just over five years, remembers when there were hundreds of names on a white board with information and phone numbers. “You’d call them up for a job interview, and they’d actually answer the phone,” she said, “Now they don’t answer the phone, or if you get ahold of them and schedule an interview, a lot of candidates just don’t show up.”

Tweed advises manufacturing employers that they have to move faster to get the candidates they want. “They have to speed up the whole process or that candidate will move on to the next opportunity,” she said.

Ballantine said the aging workforce and the push for domestic manufacturing has created a ready-made need for skilled U.S. labor. “Today, there are a growing number of manufacturing jobs available due to these trends. In Minnesota specifically, we are seeing huge demands for skill sets like CNC machinists, assemblers, mechanics, and warehouse,” he said, “Right now, we have well over 100 openings just for CNC machinists.”

Additionally, there’s a new crop of manufacturing jobs due to the complexity of the equipment, automation of distribution, and advances in supply chain management, Ballantine explained. “This has led to a demand for a more highly-skilled manufacturing workforce and created jobs that did not previously exist,” he said.

That’s where human resources professionals see the Gen X’ers and Millennials as a good fit because they are seeking to work with companies that embrace technology.

Human resources professionals all agree that educating the public about manufacturing is very important in order to deflect the negative stereotypes about the industry. “It is the responsibility of everyone in this industry, along with the government and trade associations, to change this negative and outdated perception by making manufacturing accessible to our next generation of workers,” said Ballantine.

To that end, Dayton Rogers and WSI Industries open their doors for tours to many different groups, especially to high school students, to dispel the myths about the work environment in the manufacturing industry. Keate recalls the feedback from a young man at the end of a tour: “He said, ‘this really isn’t a factory. My dad worked at one and it was dirty and the people were mean.’ That was his perspective from the stories his dad told him. That’s still a factor in our industry. So I try to talk with parents, too, to let them know how things have changed.”

And Keate should know. She started working at Dayton Rogers 25 years ago as a punch-press operator. She was fresh out of the Air Force and looking for a job so she could get out on her own and go to college. During that time, a friend asked her if she wanted to come along with him and also apply for a job at Dayton Rogers. “I got hired and he didn’t,” she said.

“When I came here, I thought I was making rubber stamps. I had no idea what Dayton Rogers did. On the first day I walked onto the floor, there were girlie calendars from parts manufacturers hanging up,” Keate continued, noting she was only one of two women working at the company at that time, “Now times have changed. There’s a new awareness. Things have changed for the better and it’s a more respectful work atmosphere.”

As Keate’s career progressed at Dayton Rogers, she began working in customer service and started attending college. When the HR position opened up, she applied, because she likes working with people and felt it would be a good fit.

Now as the human resources staff person, she puts her background to work educating others about the industry.

Students are not the only ones HR professionals are working to educate. “Parents have a big influence on their children’s career choice, so we need to make sure they know the manufacturing industry offers a good wage and a good living,” Keate said, “Our factories are clean, our work environment is respectful, and we’re a family-run company and we treat everyone like family.”

Another hurdle is to overcome the mantra that a four-year degree is the only way to succeed in the workforce. Not everyone fits into that college mold, and that’s OK. “I tell students that I talk to that if you have that passion to see the final product from something you made, then this is for you,” Schmidt said.pm_endmarkblue-e1320337140493

Nancy Huddleston is the editor and publications manager for the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2016 Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. For permission to use or reprint this article please contact Nancy Huddleston, publications manager for Precision Manufacturing Journal.

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