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Area Development: Building a Thriving Manufacturing Workforce

PMAEF mentioned in Area Development article.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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.

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.

Read more here.