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SC Manufacturing Conference Recap: Best Practices for Finding, Training and Retaining Workers

May 9, 2016

Palmetto State manufacturing, economic development, workforce development and human resources, construction, engineering, banking and legal sector representatives convened April 20-21 in Greenville for the 2016 South Carolina Manufacturing Conference and Expo presented by SC Biz News. Presentations focused on workforce, infrastructure, the emergence of new technology and globalization, successes of the automotive and aerospace industry, and intellectual protections for manufacturing. In a series of blogs, we’ll recap the ideas exchanged during the conference. 

As the United States manufacturing sector grows, the labor shortage and future demand for high-skilled workers are critical issues nationwide that are also on the radar for South Carolina business and government leaders. 

2015 Skills Gap Study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predicts that “nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled, and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of these jobs going unfilled.”

The rate of retirement for Baby Boomers combined with the current growth in manufacturing contribute to the skills gap – but strategies for spanning the chasm were presented by a human resources panel at the 2016 South Carolina Manufacturing Conference & Expo. 

“The problem seems to be two-fold … how do we fix it now for the short term, and then how do we fix it 15 to 20 years from now?” said Steve Hall, VP of Business Development with Find Great People. “There’s an enormous amount of effort being put into the long-term fix … the bigger problem is: ‘What do we do to solve the problem now?’”

Evaluate your compensation structures

Many companies assume employee turnover is driven by unfavorable compensation structures. And while that’s only a piece of the puzzle, evaluating compensation frequently is vital to retaining talent. 

Randy Hatcher, President of MAU Workforce Solutions, challenged employers to analyze the roles all employees play in an operation – to identify the areas where vacancies would provide negative impacts, and to target those areas for considerable wage adjustments. 

Panel moderator Steve Nail, VP of Human Resources for Hubbell Lighting which is, headquartered in Greenville, provided anecdotal support. 

“Our company was having problems with turnover and started to look at the analysis of compensation; most companies have a general increase every year of, say, 3 percent, and that’s what we were doing every year,” Nail said. “Yet, when we did the analysis, we found that engineers’ salaries were going up by 6 percent, so the longer term engineers were getting further and further behind.”

Understand employees’ work styles 

Today’s workforce encompasses Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, and each generation brings with it a distinct set of learning styles, desires and motivations – so using a one-size-fits-all approach runs the risk of alienating some employees. 

To build an atmosphere where all employees feel valued, the panelists recommended learning about each generation’s work styles and adapting management practices accordingly.  

“These young kids, they want to learn by doing,” said Randy Hatcher, President of MAU Workforce Solutions. “They don’t want to read it in a book.”

Another recommendation that gives employees ownership for their success: allow flexibility, and explore opportunities for retirement-age employees to gradually exit the workforce. 

Phillips Staffing President Ed Parris said one of his most productive recruiters works only three days per week and is nearing retirement age. Allowing older employees to phase out of their activities over a prolonged period with modified work schedules facilitates a smooth transfer of institutional knowledge while maintaining employee engagement.  

Market opportunities, be aware of your brand, and actively recruit

Each panelist emphasized the importance of establishing awareness for your company’s mission, culture, and opportunities to generate interest among candidates.  

“We’ve got to continue to market that manufacturing is not your dad’s manufacturing,” Parris said. “It’s a totally different environment.” 

Hall cited a Career Builder survey that found only seven percent of people found their jobs through a direct posting, but each person typically used 17 electronic resources to learn about their employer. That means it’s for companies to have a presence on social media platforms such as LinkedIn that can be used to build awareness for your company, to notify prospective employees about opportunities, and to engage in communication with candidates. 

Panelists also agreed that past recruitment mindset followed the “If you build it, they will come,” convention, but connecting with candidates today more closely resembles courtship activity.  

“There are a lot of companies that do what we call ‘Post and pray,’ and that just doesn’t work anymore,” Hatcher said. 

Hire best matches for your company 

Another common thread among the panelists: retaining quality employees is in the best interested of each business – and it starts with ensuring the candidate is right from the start. 

While most employers use a list of desired characteristics during the hiring process, Hatcher recommended making a list of the “no-go” qualities that can rule candidates out. 

He also suggested using behavior-based questions during interviews and conducting pre-employment test assignments that shine light on a candidate’s speed, quality and competency in completing required tasks. 

“You’re asking things that predict the behaviors that you’re looking for,” Hatcher said. 

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