In my history as a grant consultant to the manufacturing community, and during a recent series of interviews I did with manufacturing leaders from across the country, I have had the privilege of talking candidly with manufacturers about their most pressing growth challenges. The vast majority of manufacturers are VERY challenged finding employees, and have been for quite some time. The advent of incentives for those on the unemployment rolls has made what is already a bad situation worse.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for March, 2021 was 6.0%. While this is significantly lower than early 2020 (14.7%), it is projected to continue its decline as US company operations recover from COVID-19.
What can manufacturers do to find workers in times of low unemployment and incentivized unemployment? I have a few ideas to share based on my experience both in the manufacturing community and serving manufacturers:
- Internship Programs – I worked for a company in a rural community, where there were many companies competing for a small number of workers. This company hired high schoolers (many either friends or relatives of their existing workers) for after school and summer jobs in the factory. Once they graduated high school, if they chose to go to college in the area, they were offered work schedules that allowed them to attend a full load of classes. If they went to school away from the area, they were often offered a summer job. If they chose to not go to school, and performed well during high school, they were offered a full-time job at the facility. College workers were often hired upon graduation for a variety of jobs, as many of them had 4-6 years of experience when they started as a full-time employee.The benefit of internships, particularly when workers start in high school, is the lack of a learning curve when they start full time. In addition, if the internship program utilizes rotations to allow students to work in various areas of the facility, it helps participants decide on a career. It also helps employers evaluate a worker on the job with little risk, as the intern’s pay is lower than the standard and there is no obligation to keep them on or hire them back.If you wish to start an internship program, ask your supervisors where they feel interns would be most beneficial. In many cases, interns can at least partially perform needed skills both in the office and on the production floor, and can reduce the need for skilled workers in these areas.
- Employee Bonuses – The best employees are often the ones that are relatives or friends of current good employees. One innovative way manufacturers find workers is by incentivizing employees who recommend their friends and family. If that person is eventually hired, the referring employee receives a bonus.While the bonuses are usually small ($250 or $500 per successful referred hire), it can be a good reason for employees to help recruit new workers.
- Workforce Development Non-Profits and Organizations– There are many organizations that help train and retrain formerly nonviolent offenders, victims of abuse, veterans and others for productive careers. While graduates from these programs may not have the technical skills, in many cases, they will have obtained strong “soft skills” and work ethic. In the case of veterans, many of them will also come with a strong technical background that you can build upon. lf you are willing and have the resources to supplement the worker’s skills, you will find that you can bring someone on board quickly due to the training they receive.As a bonus, when you hire underserved individuals, you often qualify for On the Job training grants from your local Workforce Opportunity Investment Act (WIOA) centers.Here are some national, well-known nonprofits and organizations in the workforce readiness space:
- Dress for Success Worldwide – The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.
- VA Veterans Readiness and Employment – The Veterans Employment Center (VEC) is the federal government’s single authoritative internet source for connecting transitioning Servicemembers, Veterans and their families to meaningful career opportunities.
- YMCA – The Y offers services that help people be self-reliant, productive, and connected to the community. Local Ys address the unique needs of their communities and provide services focused on critical areas such as child welfare, community health, job training, environmental education, and family needs.
I hope the ideas outlined in this article are helpful as you search for future employees, and I encourage you to try at least one of these concepts. While it is true that finding great employees during times of low unemployment and incentivized unemployment is hard, it’s truly not impossible.