October 20, 2014 / best practices, Employee Morale, human capital, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, strategic planning
Machine shops, just like every other segment of the manufacturing industry, are facing a huge challenge that is only going to intensify in the years to come. That challenge is the skills gap, and if you aren’t facing this issue head on just yet, you will be soon.
As stated in a previous blog post, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor. Meanwhile, the next generation of workers just isn’t interested in pursuing manufacturing careers. Large corporations like GE are trying to change that, but shifting cultural perception isn’t something that happens overnight. This is leaving manufacturers with a small pool of talent from which to choose.
Actively attacking the skills gap may require machine shops to adjust the ways they both hire and maintain talent. In other words, perhaps part of the solution is for managers to change their perception of what makes a good operator or, better yet, what it takes to develop a good operator.
Taking into account the current talent pool, below are some tips on finding and maintaining the next generation of operators:
- Start with Strengths, Not Skills. While the traditional hiring tactics typically start with evaluating an applicant’s skill sets, executives like Tony Staub of Staub Machine Inc. are starting to look at personal attributes such as attitude and communication ability before skills. In a recent article that appeared in Modern Machine Shop, Staub says that the cost of a personal mismatch is often far greater than a missing skill that can be learned later. “If you don’t have a work ethic, I can’t change that,” Staub tells Modern Machine Shop, “but I can teach you how to run and program a lathe.”
- Embrace Generational Traits, Behaviors, and Attitudes. In an article from Manufacturing.net, Dan Campbell, CEO of the staffing and professional recruitment organization Hire Dynamics, suggests that manufacturers embrace generational traits when hiring. For example, Campbell says that “Millennials consistently seek to improve the workplace in terms of how they can apply creativity and empower their own positions and teams.” In response to this tendency, he recommends that employers put Millennial applicants face to face with another peer who is employed by the company. “Have the young employee stress the accomplishments, innovation and benefits of the company and its culture, as well as all the ways the potential hire could immediately start contributing their ideas and innovations to the organization,” Campbell tells Manufacturing.net.
- Encourage “Buy-In” from the Start. While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are truly invaluable. As discussed in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, employee “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees don’t “buy-in” or feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected. Strategies such as collecting feedback and even investing in continued education are good ways to encourage employee ownership from the start. Operators that feel valued are more likely to value their jobs and their employer.
- Work with Academia. Part of filling the skills and interest gap will require your company to partner with outside sources to make sure that you have access to good talent. In an editorial published earlier this year, Dean Peters, editor at Forge magazine, promotes a collaborative relationship between industry and academia—something he says is already happening within the metalworking sector. According to Peters, there are plenty of technical schools, community colleges, and universities out there that are promoting the manufacturing industry to students. By actively working with these schools, you are not only building a pipeline of skilled employees, but doing your part to promote careers in manufacturing.