Manufacturing Through the Eyes of Human Resources, Recruitment and New Hire Training

By Brian Kingston, MC Assembly – Courtesy of SMT Magazine

Perhaps more important than the technology and tools a manufacturing company has are its people. People are what make a company truly great and the process of recruiting talented, skilled, dedicated employees and training them properly for success is an important aspect of any manufacturing company.

At MC Assembly, we are very involved in the local community and make an emphasis on volunteering and helping with CareerOneStop, American Job Center or what we locally call CareerSource Brevard. This active involvement allows us to network with other professionals and meet a local candidate pool that one will not be able to find on job boards or through a recruiting agency. We also participate in internship programs in hopes the intern will succeed and we will be able to hire them full time.

Some other ways we find candidates include employee referral programs, partnering with the local community, participating in job fairs, and working with and volunteering at the local high school and vocational school. Community outreach initiatives are also very important when finding new candidates.

In today’s market, it’s not only about what the candidate can contribute to the company, but what can the company contribute to the candidate: “Do you allow room for advancement?” “How is your on-the-job training program?” “Do you have tuition reimbursement?” “Do you contribute or volunteer with a cause the candidate is passionate about?” All these methods are very important in finding people.

Right now, one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing companies is recruiting millennial talent. There is an outdated mentality that with manufacturing, you do not have autonomy, that it’s challenging work and there’s no opportunity for individualism or advancement. At MC Assembly, we counter that by giving employees an opportunity to voice their thoughts and take ownership over their work, by voicing how they think things should or shouldn’t be done. It really gives us an upper hand honing in on our manufacturing process and making it the best we can. It’s critical for our future that we be able to bring in younger talent. We’ve also introduced a lot of incentives like tuition reimbursement and on the job training that can help us attract and retain that talent.

The use of social media sounds cliché, but in manufacturing it is critical to reach millennial talent. Recent statistics show that over 85% of millennials have smartphones and touch them more than 45 times per day. Five out of six millennials connect with companies via social media networks. If your company is not active and does not invest in social media today, you are simply not visible to this generation and missing out on this talent pipeline.

Another challenge facing many manufacturing companies today is finding candidates with the right skill sets to fill specific jobs. There is a real gap of skilled manufacturing talent, largely because many schools have not been teaching manufacturing skills for nearly two decades.

About 20 years ago, many high school just stopped teaching manufacturing-related skills. There was no more wood shop, no more automotive, no more welding or electronics classes. Students were convinced that they needed to go to college for advanced degrees and manufacturing was no longer looked at as a long-term career. This all happened around the time of the dotcom boom. The new trend started to shift towards internet and computer-related jobs and teaching.

Today, we find ourselves with a serious skill gap; in some places, finding skilled soldering and SMT operators can present a real challenge. Overall, manufacturing finds some of the largest gaps in welding, CNC machining and electronics.

According to the Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, over the next 10 years we will need to fill 3.5 million manufacturing jobs – the current skills gap will result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.

Recently, we have seen a huge push to start teaching manufacturing at the high school level again with a dedicated focus on STEM. Seeing this need, MC Assembly has participated in a local effort called Advancing in Manufacturing (AIM), created chemical plant operator
by CareerSource Brevard. Funded by a two-year DOL National Emergency Grant, the program is making efforts to expand training and early education opportunities in the Brevard area to address immediate employment skills needs and build a pipeline of talent for the future.

I serve as a volunteer member of the AIM committee. Over the last two years we’ve demonstrated effective results in expanding training, educational and internship opportunities. We believe that our approach is a logical and effective solution to help address the skills gap in our area and serves as a model for a successful sector strategy. Through the AIM internship initiative, MC Assembly will host two high school seniors this summer. This is a great way for students to learn about the great benefits a manufacturing career offers, and it’s also a way for us to give back and become a bigger part of our community.

At the same time, we have developed a robust new hire training program. On the first day, we start new hires with a safety and quality training. This allows employees to learn safety tips, who to call, where to go and how to work in a safe way. It also stresses the most important aspect to our business, that quality as our number one priority. This happens well before an employee walks on to the production floor and works on our customers’ products. On-the-job training follows the safety and quality training. New hires are identified on the production floor with a different colored smock and are assigned a mentor.

Once the supervisor and mentor believe the OTJ is complete and the employee is ready to be on their own our quality manager will assess their skill and what they learned and confirm the employees is ready to perform the job on their own. This process is very involved and usually takes 1-2 weeks, this helps new hire get up to speed quickly and have the confidence they are able to complete their assigned tasks.

The skills we look for in candidates are the “soft skills,” which are essential. Every resume you look at will tell you whether a candidate qualifies for the job based on their work skills, work experience and education. The one variable that cannot be determined from reading a resume are the soft skills. Communication, problem solving, adaptability, teamwork, self-motivation and emotional intelligence are just as important, if not more, than the technical skills to do the job. The six soft skills are hard to identify in an interview setting, behavior based interview questions are asked during our interview process to help identify these skills in each candidate. I believe you should always hire character and train skill.

This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of SMT Magazine.

Building a Thriving Manufacturing Workforce

Ed Potoczak, Director of Industry Relations, IQMS Manufacturing

Courtesy of

When asked about recruiting, hiring, and retaining skilled workers, most manufacturers across North America report that they are experiencing challenges. It is not surprising in light of recent observations by William A. Strauss, a senior economist in the Economic Research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

In his keynote at the IQMS 2017 Pinnacle User Conference, “Economic Conditions and Factors That Impact Manufacturing,” Strauss explained that labor force growth is limited to an extent by the availability of potential workers. He noted that population growth in the United States is at 0.8 percent, and the population is aging. Baby-boomers represent a bigger portion of the potential workforce, he said, compared to younger members of the population considered to be in their years of prime employment. Compounding the recruitment challenge is that many parents of high school and college students envision factories as loud, chaotic places where the focus is on manual labor and the need for education is limited — a view far more accurate in 1977 than in 2017. The results are two-fold: Students with a strong academic focus are steered toward other career paths. Meanwhile, students placed in vocational tracks often lack the core science and math skills required for modern manufacturing jobs.

Finally, the youngest entrants in the labor force, the millennials, bring a different set of priorities and expectations along with a fundamentally different relationship with technology.

Fortunately, innovative manufacturers have developed strategies for overcoming these hurdles to build skilled and effective workforces. Let’s look at best practices in recruiting, training and knowledge transfer, employee engagement, and technology adoption they have developed to build modern manufacturing teams.

Revamping Recruiting Strategies Today, attracting skilled talent extends far beyond manufacturers posting job notices to build a pipeline of people interested in their openings. Instead, it is important to generate a plan for consistent year-round public relations activities to present the company’s values, purpose in the market, support of individual employee interests, availability of ongoing training and education, modern technology, opportunities for advancement, and involvement in charitable and civic organizations.

Manufacturers also need to reach out to providers of secondary and higher education along with community development groups. This may include sponsoring robotics design teams, offering plant tours, or participating in career fairs. Additionally, events can provide a positive peek behind the curtain, whether they are organized as part of national Manufacturing Day efforts or as independent initiatives.

kids on a manufacturing tour

Another avenue is to creatively expose students in high school, technical schools, and community colleges through interactive tools such as EduFactor, a Netflix-like, cloud-based, video service developed by Edge Factor. Content features innovative designer-makers, the need for products in all aspects of life, and exciting careers in product design and production. Throughout these recruitment efforts, it important to reach out to women as well. According to 2016 data from the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women hold fewer than 10 percent of jobs in the growing areas of advanced manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and logistics. Many companies that focus on engaging with young women in high school and college report greater success in filling important entry-level specialty and management roles.

Training for Today’s Job Demands Alongside recruiting, it is important to invest in training to help grow the pool of available skilled workers. In many cases, manufacturers can take advantage of opportunities to partner with industry, government, and educational institutions. For instance, Raise the Floor is a training program in the Cincinnati metropolitan area started by 26 women from the education, manufacturing, and nonprofit worlds. It is helping fill middle-skill manufacturing jobs as a way for women to better their financial situation. Carissa Shutzman, a co-founder of Raise the Floor and a vice president at Gateway Community College in Northern Kentucky, said the group’s founders came together because of “a perfect storm” with a high number locally of unfilled, skilled jobs in manufacturing and a high percentage of under- and unemployed women.

Another example is, 50 Strong, a subsidiary of mid-size manufacturer Precision Thermoplastic Components. It has launched the 50 Strong Foundation, which awards scholarships to those engaged in or interested in pursuing careers in manufacturing. With these scholarships, recipients can defray the cost of attending a technical, vocational or trade school to grow their manufacturing knowledge and skills.

Meanwhile, Dymotek, which was recently awarded 2016 Processor of the Year by Plastic News, demonstrates the success of combining outside education with in-house training and employee development. The company, which focuses on the demanding niche of liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding, looks for people with the right culture and attitude — whether working at the local diner or auto shop. Then once they are hired, often as direct labor, the company educates them on LSR molding and manufacturing skills. Notably, some 24 percent of Dymotek’s full-time employees started as direct labor and then were promoted.

Engaging Employees Once employees are onboard, successful manufacturers recognize and address the different expectations of younger millennials and “Gen Edgers.” Older Gen Xers and baby-boomers remember starting careers with trivial, administrative tasks. By contrast younger employees are used to having adults, such as parents, teachers, and relatives, ask for their input on a daily basis. So they want to contribute immediately in a meaningful way. When asked about recruiting, hiring, and retaining skilled workers, most manufacturers across North America report that they are experiencing challenges.

Communication is one key to engaging younger workers. Instead of simply assigning work, it is important for direct supervisors to consistently explain how those work assignments help colleagues, impact customers, and benefit society.

Also critical is a commitment to mentoring “high-potential” employees. As new employees gain familiarity with how things get done, they should be thoughtfully challenged with meaningful responsibilities backed by guidance to provide coachable moments. Additionally, regular meetings for informal listening, feedback, and advice with seasoned employees and managers will be appreciated, and they will help minimize the risk of frustration leading to a quick exit from the company.

While focusing on the wave of new talent, manufactures should also identify growth opportunities for Gen Xers who have years with the firm. These valuable employees, who often need to support growing family commitments, want to advance and unleash their passion to help grow the company.

Importantly, integrating new employees into multi-generational teams can strengthen all workers. Exposing recent hires to the knowledge and style of experienced team members can provide them with helpful role models. At the same time, existing team members should be encouraged to leverage younger employees’ tech savvy, enthusiasm, and creativity to provide “fresh eyes” insights for the team and project.

Using Technology to Drive Retention Technology now touches most people’s daily lives — from millennials who don’t remember a time before smartphones to baby-boomers who use their mobile devices for shopping, social media, and more. These employees expect to take advantage of technology to make their jobs more efficient and effective. Manufacturers also need to reach out to providers of secondary and higher education along with community development groups.

In particular, virtually every employee has a personal smartphone, so manufacturers can benefit by allowing — even encouraging — use of these devices for online research, collaboration, and social communications. Mobile devices also enable e-mail and text communications with colleagues and supervisors outside of business hours. Additionally, businesses can incent employees to use their smartphones for positive posts on social media to build the company brand. At the same time, preparing a reasonable policy for smartphone communications will protect intellectual property and confidential information.

Investing in software to support operations in the back office and on the shop floor is increasingly critical. Well-integrated modern enterprise systems can provide ready access to valuable daily operating insights via many types of devices. Real-time data capture and analytics enable “instant” access to key information needed by the team to do their jobs whenever and wherever needed. Moreover, these systems help minimize the redundant work that frustrates all employees, empowering all team members to become more productive.

Enabling Effective Knowledge Transfer Many manufacturers face the need to accomplish a transfer of knowledge between retiring baby-boomer managers, technicians, and operators and newer employees. Contemporary enterprise software provides powerful tools to support this effort. Notably document management systems integrated with other enterprise software can be used to deliver written work instructions, photo images, and even video clips for training employees on a work task or refreshing their skills. Manufacturers can make video recordings of experienced employees explaining how they do specific work tasks. These can be captured in one- to two-hour sessions and then edited later into short, digestible segments for daily use that can be accessed via the web or mobile devices.

Additionally, manufacturers can leverage a significant amount of written and video training content provided by software vendors, equipment builders, and trade associations to their customers or association members. For example, the Precision Metalforming Association Education Foundation (PMAEF) is dedicated to the promotion and development of a skilled workforce for the metalforming industry. The PMAEF creates technical training materials for its manufacturing members to use in full-fledged apprenticeship programs or for refreshing skills.

In Sum To successfully build a sustainable, thriving workforce it is important to walk a mile in the shoes of those you seek to attract, hire, integrate, retain, and develop. By creatively applying modern recruiting and training techniques, creating meaningful work experiences, and leveraging technology to improve knowledge transfer and productivity, manufacturers will be well positioned to build an effective workforce.

Attract and retain top manufacturing talent in 3 key steps

Courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal

The manufacturing industry is in flux. Workforce data shows that the types of people working in manufacturing are changing, as are the skills they need.

The ADP Research Institute Q4 Workforce Vitality Report shows that despite the decline in manufacturing jobs (0.3 percent on an annual basis in the past quarter), the role of the factory worker will not disappear. It will, instead, change.

Similarly, automation is here, and it’s not slowing down. McKinsey’s 2017 A Future That Works report estimates that 49 percent of tasks people are paid to do in the global economy have the potential to become automated. The fundamental shifts taking place in manufacturing are affecting not just the way people work, but also the skills today’s workers need to have.

First, increased automation demands a more highly-skilled labor force. In fact, 30 percent of the workers moving into the manufacturing industry are coming from professional services. This segment is gaining fast on the 38 percent who have traditionally entered manufacturing from trade and transportation.

Those who can maintain and operate modern IT systems are especially in demand for manufacturing. And they’re paid more, too. Employees entering manufacturing from the fields of professional services, trade and transportation, and information technology see an average increase of 6.7 percent in wages, according to Workforce Vitality Report.

Second, and conversely, we are seeing “traditional” manufacturing workers exit the industry and experience a 2 percent decrease in wages in their new jobs. But this varies industry by industry. The 22 percent of workers who are leaving manufacturing to enter trade and transportation experience a 4.2 percent decrease in wages. On the bright side, the 24 percent of workers exiting manufacturing for professional services see a one percent wage increase.

A combination of efforts is needed

Employers in manufacturing face a difficult task in this shifting environment, too. Recruiting completely new talent is not an option, nor is retraining an entire workforce, but both are a major concern for employers. Twenty-eight percent of respondents in the ADP Strategic Drift report cite recruiting highly-skilled employees as their top concern, while 25 percent say it is retaining experienced employees. The answer is likely a combination of efforts to compete for newer talent while also focusing on retraining their existing workforce.

The tightening labor market is also at play here. With an anticipated worker shortage of 2 million by 2025, employers need to take a close look at their business model to understand their talent needs and develop a strategic approach to recruitment and workforce planning.

PLC photo

Here are three recommendations for employers who want to attract and retain top manufacturing talent:

  1. Tap into the STEM pipeline

A Deloitte report found that 80 percent of manufacturing companies said they’d be willing to pay new hires more than the market average, but better compensation isn’t a silver bullet. Manufacturing has a PR problem. The report found that manufacturing ranked last as a career choice among millennials, and that only one in three parents said they would encourage their child to pursue a career in the industry.

Employers should adopt recruiting practices that can shake the industry’s antiquated image. To compete for highly-skilled talent, companies need to create a pipeline of workers engaged in STEM fields.

Professional services and trade and transportation are currently the strongest sources for these workers when you look at the Workforce Vitality Report. Business should focus on recruitment from these industries and others while also looking to create a steady pipeline of young talent interested in the industry. Recruiting at colleges and establishing apprenticeship programs can help companies appeal to candidates who had not previously considered a manufacturing career.

  1. Retrain workers to partner with automation

Hand-in-hand with the talent shortage is the skills gap. The Deloitte report found that 70 percent of manufacturing employees are deficient in computer skills and 67 percent in technical skills. This reality is pushing lower-skilled workers out of manufacturing.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. With proper training, these workers can stay in the industry and thrive. The time is now for employers to invest in training, not just on the technical side, but also for educating employees to better understand how the industry is changing.

  1. Put your money, and benefits, where your mouth is

Recruiting new talent and retraining existing talent is just part of the equation. Companies then have to work to keep employees happy — the ones they attract from other industries as well as their current workers who can benefit from retraining. Especially now that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, manufacturing companies should consider the workplace realities they come to expect — flexible hours, competitive pay, and opportunity for advancement — if they want to attract and retain this vital talent.

The future of manufacturing is not a zero-sum game. Although the industry is undergoing a transition, employers can leverage the opportunity to bring together and engage different types of workers with varying skill sets to achieve their business goals.