Are you having trouble finding manufacturing employees?

As the economy recovers, many manufacturers are experiencing demand unseen since before the COVID-19 pandemic began 16 months ago.  Everyone is ready to hit the accelerator and speed towards recovery, except for one thing.  There is little or no gas in the tank.  Having had to reduce payroll months ago to survive, many manufacturers are struggling to hire the shop floor associates needed to ride this demand to a full business recovery.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle want to make this problem into a political discussion.  The federal government is providing extra unemployment money to families until the full economy recovers and jobs are once again plentiful.  Some claim this government money is an incentive for individuals to stay home therefore many states are no longer accepting these funds.  The issue of attracting shop floor associates runs much deeper than this political debate.  Attracting and retaining shop floor associates is not a new business challenge.

Wages.  What level of wage attracts an individual to apply for a job?  One that affords an individual the ability to provide for themselves and their families.  Some entry level manufacturing jobs pay as little as $10/hour.  Is this enough?  For most, probably not.  As a manufacturer, shop floor associate pay and benefits must be sufficient to satisfy individual basic needs for food, shelter, and transportation.  This varies by community.  Manufacturers need to study their communities and determine the pay required to hire the needed individuals.  But be warned.  Pay and benefits alone are not sufficient to hire and retain employees.

Other “Hygiene” Factors.  Psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed what is known as “Two-factor theory” in 1964.  Herzberg identified certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction.  Those factors that cause dissatisfaction are called “hygiene factors” while those that drive satisfaction are called “motivators”.

Hygiene factors include such things as company policies, supervision, technical problems, wages, and working conditions.  Is your manufacturing business’s reputation for fair treatment, a safe work environment, and secure employment such that when someone comes to work for your company they won’t be dissatisfied with their environment and want to leave?  While wages are important, these other factors might be obstacles to attract talent to your company.

Motivators.  When your company can hire the needed employees and you are meeting the demands from the marketplace, will you be able to retain these employees in this competitive labor market?  What will motivate an associate to stay for more than a few months?  This should be done with “motivators.”

How can routine shop floor manufacturing work be motivating?  Motivators are things like challenging work, recognition for one’s achievements, responsibility, the opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, and having a sense of importance to an organization.  Do you recognize achievement?  A simple “good job” from a supervisor or team recognition for accomplishing goals are a good place to start.  Do you engage your shop floor associates in solving problems that arise in your manufacturing process?  Those that work in the process often understand the challenges the best and will share simple ideas on how to address what might appear to be complex problems.

Do your employees understand “why” your business exists?  Do they feel a sense of ownership for satisfying your customer’s needs?  Having a clear purpose will give greater meaning to the work being done and will motivate many associates to want to stay to contribute to your success.

Is your business looking for employees in the right places?  Your company has good wage and benefits and a strong work environment.  Your company has “motivational” activities in place that current associates tell you are meaningful.  Despite this, your business still struggles to hire new associates.  What next?

We are all familiar with the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”  Unfortunately, this approach is insufficient to attract associates.  A manufacturer must go into the community where candidates are and communicate their employment offer.  Ensure advertising of employment opportunities is targeted towards medium (e.g., social media, newspapers, radio, TV) that potential associates consume.  Also consider an employee referral program that provides incentives to current employees who refer an individual eventually hired.  Once current needs are fulfilled, do not stop.  Build a pipeline to cover future attrition and growth by staying active in the employment market.

Even though political debate continues about unemployment subsidies, finding qualified shop floor associates is not a new business challenge.  Manufacturers must ensure their “hygiene” factors, such as company policies, supervision, wages, and working conditions, are such that individuals will want to work for the company.  To retain these associates, use “motivators” such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and involvement in problem-solving.  Finally, do not wait for potential candidates to come to you.  Go into the community and share the great opportunities that exist for your associates.  With these efforts, the short-term employment gap will be closed, and you will be prepared for future, long-term needs.

About the Author: Mike Ungar is a Certified FocalPoint Business Coach and Trainer.  He has 35 years of experience with Michelin in manufacturing and human resources.  Mike is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Clemson MBA program.

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