Rethinking Recruitment: the Future of Talent on Manufacturing Frontlines

4 manufacturing employees

It’s widely believed that machines can do anything people can do…only better.

But there’s one thing machines can’t do: operate themselves.

Such is the problem a Colorado manufacturing shop found itself with after a skilled laborer left the company and took his operating knowledge of a critical piece of automated assembly equipment with him. “I can do everything to that machine,” the shop manager told the Wall Street Journal, “but run it.”

Challenge on Manufacturing Frontlines: Rethinking the Definition of "Hiring"

It’s the conundrum facing manufacturing, where ideas for technological advancements are only outpaced by the shortage of the people to operate them. A Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report says retirements and industry growth will open more than 4-million manufacturing jobs in the next ten years. Only half of those will get filled. “Many manufacturers surveyed expect the extent of the skills shortage to increase across all workforce areas in the coming three years,” reads the report that calls manufacturing the source of a full ten percent of national gross domestic product (GDP).

“Even at present, many of these jobs are taking longer to fill, stretching out to months of time where a company is missing key workforce to deliver open orders, expand production, or respond to customer needs.”

It’s a bleak outlook for a critical industry that Deloitte says drives a tenth of national GDP. And it’s forcing the Colorado shop and others like it to rethink the way they get skills. Many are getting creative, recruiting high schoolers, and experimenting with apprenticeships and other training programs to teach, versus find, the skills they need.

A Revolution in Education Strategies

In fact, such approaches are already hard at work in healthcare, where a dire shortage of frontline employees is spurring a revolution in education strategies. One healthcare provider told WSJ about training high schoolers as certified nursing assistants, with the goal of paying tuition to transition these students into future nursing positions. Hospitals in Colorado are banding together to create a pathway for entry-level and non-clinical employees to train for badly needed medical tech roles. One health system, recognizing education’s power for recruitment, went as far as to put its tuition program under talent acquisition.

Those same healthcare providers are also challenging education delivery. A key finding of the Deloitte study says still-developing technology makes future skill sets an unknown. So training will have to be nimble enough to develop as skills do. “Forty-seven percent of today’s jobs might be gone in the next 10 years, including 20 percent of assembler jobs in manufacturing,” wrote the Deloitte authors. “But the overall headcount is expected to increase, meaning these jobs would transition into other skills, likely infused with technology.” That will require thinking today about education delivery models that go beyond just four-year degrees, to the type of in-demand learning that can keep pace with tech.

Successful Pathways and Constantly Replenishing Talent

Those methods promise to do more than patch holes. Career growth is as much recruitment carrot as retention tool. So inviting people to build and grow careers today creates solid pipelines of constantly replenishing talent: those rising from entry level illustrating the success of the pathway; and newcomers, drawn by the opportunity, eagerly filing the spots behind them.

It’s a practical approach in an era when there simply aren’t enough ready-made employees to fill the need. Success will require more than patchwork approaches, but official processes that can plot courses, manage costs, and track progress toward goals.

“The limited availability of active candidates in the job market could make it harder for manufacturers to find the talent that ticks every box,” writes the Deloitte study. “This flexibility, combined with improved employee onboarding and on-the-job training, could help manufacturers identify new employees with good attitudes who can adapt to and fit the needs of the job.”

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.