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William Tommins: Four tactics to help attract and retain manufacturing talent

William Tommins

Attracting and retaining top talent for the manufacturing industry is more challenging than ever. Employment is up, U.S. unemployment is at a 10-year low (falling to 4.4 percent this year) and baby boomers are reaching retirement age and exiting the workforce. The global supply of high-skill workers is not keeping up with demand, and, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, there may be a potential shortage of more than 40 million high-skill workers by 2020. HR departments have shifted focus from salaried employees to filling hourly positions, which increasingly require problem-solving skills and technical expertise. 

Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry is suffering from a perception problem; eligible recruits fear layoffs, associate the industry with a “lower status stigma” and foresee superior career growth in other occupations. To mitigate these issues, companies must be creative in their appeals to the next generation of manufacturing professionals. Here are some methods to help improve recruiting and retention.


During recruitment, reinforce the fact that manufacturing jobs often pay better than other unskilled or semi-skilled labor positions. According to IndustryWeek, fast-food workers stand to make $10 to $15 an hour, while a new manufacturing employee could make $15 to $25 an hour. Even if the position isn’t something workers want long term, a role at the entry level will expose them to other areas of the business. If he or she commits to further training within the company, the individual has a chance to make even more. Make sure to express the potential growth opportunities in the interview process and reinforce the value of the hourly employee. 

Another area for differentiation is workplace culture. Articulate the improved safety standards, collaborative environment and use of state-of-the-art technology in job descriptions. Also, reinforce that your company will provide ongoing education, including access to more in-depth training. 

Partner with local schools 

Some companies are beginning to conduct focused outreach at local high schools, community colleges and technical schools. By working with in-school counselors, manufacturers can identify students with the skill set and desire to learn more about technical pursuits. Presenting at job fairs or “career days” can also help dispel myths regarding the nature of the work and build rapport with a younger audience. Another route is to offer sponsorships, internships and/or apprenticeships. Programs such as these provide a hands-on experience without the full commitment of employment. Candidates will have a better idea of on-the-job responsibilities and employers can vet aptitude accordingly. 

Re-evaluate benefits 

By 2020, millennials are expected to compose 50 percent of the global workforce, so they will have significant influence in the work experience. According to Ernst & Young, millennials are the generation most likely to change jobs, give up promotions or take a pay cut to have flexibility in their work. In order to attract this talent, manufacturers should reconsider paid-leave and scheduling policy. For example, Globe Manufacturing of Pittsfield, New Hampshire allows its first-shift employees to choose from start times between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Although around 80 percent still choose to begin the day at 6 a.m., they report satisfaction with the freedom of choice. Other companies are offering shift-switching options; if you have to attend your child’s piano recital, for example, you have the option to swap shifts with another employee. Lastly, consider implementing flexible vacation. Rather than offering the entire company the same weeks off, allow employees to choose their leave. 

Update sourcing technology   

Consider pairing with a partner firm that can provide modernized recruitment technology  and expertise for your company. For example, many workers in the U.S. speak English as a second language. Some recruitment technologies offer multilingual career sites to ensure all information about the company and its jobs is understood correctly. A good partner will also help you consolidate your records and process; moving application materials to an online portal will help you keep track of strong candidates, easily search for records and even open new doors to improve the company’s profit by facilitating the collection of data supporting work opportunity tax credits (WOTC). Lastly, a technology partner will help you craft a social media strategy. More than 3 billion people around the world use social media each month, with nine in 10 of the users accessing preferred platforms via mobile devices . Work with experts to create mobile-friendly messaging as well as target your audience on social media in a low-cost manner. 

Recruiting the next generation of manufacturing workers won’t be an easy feat. But with a renewed approach to HR and talent management, the industry can find its future leaders. 

William Tommins is the market executive for Global Commercial Banking in the Southern New England/Westchester Region of Bank of America and serves as market president in southern Connecticut. He has 30 years of experience in the banking industry, and since 1988, held positions of increasing responsibility in Bank of America’s predecessor’s commercial banking units in Connecticut and Westchester County. He can be reached at William.r.tommins@baml.com.

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