If you are a manufacturer in the northeastern United States, you no doubt have had the concerns and discussions around hiring talented people over the last decade. It is a frustrating problem to have when we see on the news that manufacturing is still booming, and less and less high school graduates are choosing to enter into a trade instead of heading off to college. All this news does not send me into a tailspin claiming that the trades are dying and we all need to look into automation, but it does force us to take a step back and take a long hard look at what we are doing about it.
I was in a meeting a few days ago with 50 business leaders from around the area. Most were in manufacturing while some were in a more business support role. The discussions were the same from around the room. We all knew that we needed to attract more young people into our fields. A great start, but nobody had an answer of how. Searching for talented skilled labor is an ongoing process that seemingly never ends for any of us. We all face the same issues of an aging workforce with little hope of replacing them in kind when the time comes. Larger companies with robust training programs are doing their part to recruit and train whomever they can, but that offers little insight for a small manufacturer like myself. My problem has not been finding candidates to train, it has been finding the right candidates to train. I find myself waiting in line at my local coffee shop watching 2 or 3 “baristas” hustling behind the counter, making the majority of their orders correctly and not complaining about it. I ask myself, “How can I appeal the THESE people?”. They appear motivated and passionate about their work and might just want to find a different career path that can help them achieve their goals and grow with an industry.
The right candidates are not always just the ones that show up on time, every day and are willing to work (although these are important traits too). We are also in search of someone who might be new to the industry. Someone who has not had the opportunity of learning the bad habits of someone else. I'll often ask a candidate if they are interested in working on their own car or fixing a broken appliance. This doesn't mean that I need you to be able to rebuild an engine or rebuild your water heater. The fact that someone is interested in working with their hands means that they are more apt to pick up on the skills that we need more quickly.
We are operating in a climate with ample work for everyone and a very low unemployment rate. Nobody ever said this would be easy, it's why they call it work.