*Originally printed in Wire Journal International (wirenet.org) as Recruiter: industry story needs to be part of the hiring process*
WJI: Why is labor such a dire problem for manufacturers, and what can they do to get better results when it comes to finding good employees?
As a recruiter in the industry, I have spoken to more than a few industry leaders over the last six years. Companies are having a harder time getting college graduates or younger people, and it’s not a surprise. A 2019 Manufacturing Institute report, The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce, finds that the extended economic expansion and record-low U.S. unemployment has led to a huge labor shortage.
A 2018 study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimates that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled between 2018 and 2028 because of the skills gap. That means there are fewer applicants, but more competition for them. Further, by 2030 one in five Americans will be 65 years old or older. By 2035, for the first time in U.S. history, retirement age Americans will outnumber the Americans under 18 years old. One last statistic, and it’s meaningful: as of 2017, nearly one-quarter of the manufacturing workforce was age 55 or older, and by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older.
Three hiring challenges stand out: younger people perceive that manufacturing work is dangerous or behind the times; there is not enough emphasis on vocational education and apprenticeships; and there is a geographic mismatch between younger “talent” that prefers to live near large growing cities, whereas manufacturing factories are often located outside large urban centers.
Some leaders I have talked to have loosened up their requirements. They try to reach outside of the industry to find new talent, while others have partnered with community colleges and local colleges. They are educating the younger workforce that there is a lucrative and strong career path in the wire and cable and manufacturing industry. What we have seen is that companies that are successful in getting new employees tend to have the same approach.
The employers realize that they need to market their company, not the job. Candidates have a lot of choices, and they are interviewing you as a company as well as you are interviewing them. They have a lot of questions. They want to find out if there is a cultural fit, if they will be challenged, will they like who they are working with, will they have opportunities to move up and stay with the company, and what kind of impact the company has on the world.
It’s always about the money to some degree, but possibly not as much as you might think. When surveyed, both Gen Z and Millennials said they would take a job that had work flexibility over salary. They saw a work-life balance as a top priority. This flexibility can mean more vacation time, but it could also mean the opportunity to work flexible hours, or if feasible, to be able to work from home one or two days a week.
Some companies have streamlined the interview process. There are several ways to do this. You can set up personal interviews, having candidates meet some of the team members they would be working with. You can have informal meetings, over a meal, so candidates and companies can open up in a more relaxed atmosphere. Companies that provide quick and immediate feedback will find candidates who are engaged and enthusiastic about joining the team. We have seen companies lose good candidates because they had a great face-to-face interview, but then they wait more than three weeks before getting back to the candidate for the next step.
So do remember that while you are the one doing the hiring, the candidates are judging you on how you conduct business: if a company takes three to four weeks to make a decision, what might happen if the candidate is representing the company, and they need a quick answer to a solution for a customer or for pricing on a bid?
As an industry, we will continue to struggle finding employees. Good employees are hard to find. We all need to continue to tell people that the wire and cable industry has a great career path, and we will hopefully continue finding great leaders for our future.