Recruiting Strategies in a Challenging Market

April’s Kansas City Manufacturing Network meeting featured a panel of manufacturing and skilled trades operations professionals, led by Rich Piper from Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC).  The panelists shared their struggles, as well as their successes in building a skilled workforce in the current challenging environment.

Rich Piper led off by discussing some examples of how partnerships with KCKCC can expand access to students and training resources for companies looking to fill positions. The college has formal certification programs, but can also develop curriculum for specialized needs for those willing to work with the school and instructors. For example, he noted that Huhtamaki has partnered with the DeSoto school district and KCKCC in working with the counselors and teachers of Desoto High School to identify upcoming graduates who might want to start a career immediately after graduating. Huhtamaki may hire 2 to 3 DHS graduates to work the summer (a probationary period) before they start investing in their machine tech training in the fall.

Henke received a ‘value added’ bonus to their in house blueprint reading training provided by KCKCC.  The primary goal was to reduce the amount of rework being done. The amount of rework has gone down significantly. The word got out in the community that Henke invests in their employees.  Henke would post a job opening and better qualified applicant starting applying. Rich also recommended the book Generation iY by Tim Elmore as a great resource for integrating millennials into the workforce.

Jason Grove, from Dimensional Innovations, discussed his company’s rapid growth over the past 18 months, and noted that the company’s strategy of utilizing temporary workers to evaluate potential new permanent hires was no longer working for them. The company has launched a formal recruiting program, and has hired a full time recruiter to increase their options and access to the engineers and designers they need to fuel their growth.

Charlie Browne, from Yanfeng Global Automotive Interiors, Inc. noted that he had relocated due to his company’s need to be closer to the GM plant in Fairfax, and had come from Michigan, where the automotive industry was a talent magnet, to the Kansas City area where there is much less awareness of manufacturing opportunities, and fewer skilled and entry level employees available.  An entry level job fair netted 81 hires, that within a year were gone, and efforts to recruit from other employers revealed that most employees were happy with their current jobs.

Nancy Shively, from Pro Circuit, faced the challenge of an aging workforce, where skilled electricians were retiring, and replacements were not coming down the pipeline.   Like Dimensional Innovations, temp to hire is not working like it used to, and she has had to focus more efforts on building the brand, and promoting opportunity for workers in order to attract good candidates.

All of the speakers agreed that being engaged in the broader community is critical to strengthening the pipeline for good candidates.   Rich noted that the college is always looking for companies willing to get involved in their outreach efforts, and to serve on their advisory committee.  Dimensional Innovations has had a long term relationship with Pittsburg State University, and serves on the curriculum committee. They also regularly attend fairs at K State, and look to build relationships with students at both schools both at the fairs, and through internships.  Pro Circuit distinguishes themselves as an employer of choice by offering training programs that can help entry level employees build skills and increases in pay.

Charlie and Nancy both noted that tapping excellent employees to both recruit friends and family to work for them had been positive, but also noted the challenge that when the rules are bent to keep marginal people due to the talent shortage, that it hurts the brand, and creates issues with the excellent workers who resent having to put up with the less committed people.

Among the suggestions for those looking to improve recruitment in their companies:

  • Financial incentives or ‘bribery’ doesn’t work.  Focus on making the workplace more rewarding to the employees you want to keep, through access to training, referral programs, and better screening of new hires.
  • Get involved in the community to make future workers (and their parents) aware of great opportunities in manufacturing. Host a PTA meeting, offer a tour, and show career ladders associated with improving skills.
  • Know what your competition is offering, and create training programs, benefits, or a culture that beats the competition, and establishes you as an employer of choice that workers tell their friends and family about.
  • Communicate with your employees. Understanding how their work contributes to the whole – either by sharing financials, customer feedback, or even just a completed project well done helps employees see how their work has value and meaning.
  • Always be recruiting, even when you aren’t hiring, and don’t hesitate to hire an excellent person, as being too slow means you will probably lose them to a competitor.



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