Skilled workers have it pretty good right now.
By some counts, there are around 10 million manufacturing jobs currently sitting unfilled in the world today.
More to the point, according to a study by Manpower Group, about half of the companies trying to fill those positions can't find the candidates who possess the skills they need for the job.
That has changed the entire dynamic in the workplace – It means that, suddenly, skilled workers are holding all of the cards.
Workers today who possess the technical skills and expertise needed to help run the advanced systems critical to modern manufacturing operations now possess the power to negotiate higher wages, to explore new opportunities and to generally move through the industry as they please.
Retention has become a bigger issue than it has ever been."
It's a different story on the management side of things, however. There, this newfound employee power is a retention panic.
Simply put, with so many open jobs and with a skills gap so wide, holding onto the top performers in your company is absolutely vital.
“Retention has become a bigger issue than it has ever been,” explains Gary Pearsons, Rockwell Automation's vice president and general manager, customer support.
“The shortage of talent is causing manufacturers to rethink their strategies to hold onto the workers with the core skills and core talents that they consider very dear to their hearts as far as growing their companies.”
Retention, of course, is a complicated issue.
In today's competitive environment, simply increasing compensation or adding benefits isn't enough to keep good workers loyal. To do that, employers need to create an engaging, social and challenging work environment that offers a clear path toward future growth.
Five Retention Tips
Based on his work helping Rockwell clients achieve workforce success and leading his own team through the Rockwell channels, Pearsons has pulled together a list of five bits of advice that employers can follow to hold onto their most valued employees.
1. Create a Community
"The key for retention of good employees is to make them feel like they belong and make them feel important," Pearsons says.
At Rockwell, for example, that means a very specific, incentive training program for every new hire that can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete. And that community bonding doesn't end there.
"We have fairly routine get-togethers and reunions with alumni because we want them to stay in touch with each other," he explains. "We want them to help each other; we want them to eventually mentor each other after they go through the organization at different speeds."
2. Invest in their Future
"You need to invest in your people," Pearsons says. And that means more than just technical training.
Pearsons recommends a strong investment in soft skills like leadership and communication to supplement direct training to keep these employees in place and on a growth track to ensure that these future leaders of the company have the full range of skills they need.
Investing in employee training is, of course, a precarious move. By spending capital to provide employees with new skills and new expertise, you are also making it much easier for them to transition to new companies and new industries.
But Pearsons argues that it's worth the risk.
"The smarter your people and the more you invest in them, you do put yourself at risk. But I'm kind of okay with that," he says. ""You're building an expert. That takes investment."
3. Create a Growth Plan
"If I'm a 28-year-old manufacturer coming into your company, I want to know that there's a career path for me," Pearsons explains. "I want to understand that it is formalized and that people are being viewed as the future leaders of the company."
He recommends that large manufacturers actually develop a system of leadership reviews that look two to three levels down in the organization to both identify the people they want to keep and to create the growth opportunities they need to bring them to the top.
"You need to let these people know where you are expecting them to go in the next two or three years and onward from there," he says. "Let them see the future they have with the company and give them the skills they will need to realize it."
4. Create a Mentorship Program
"The mentorship relationship is golden," Pearsons insists. "If you're a 30-year-old worker, there is nothing better for you than a mentor that has already been at the company for 30 years to give you advice on how to work things inside the company."
That relationship, he adds, can be the one thing that convince people who are on the cusp to leave.
"A good mentorship relationship is a lot to lose, if you go," he says. "There's not telling if you will get that relationship at the next job."
5. Make It Interesting
"I always try to give the most interesting assignments to the workers I most want to stay," Pearsons says. That doesn't mean the hardest jobs or the easiest, but the ones that are different; the ones that require you to think—something that a younger, more intelligent person would find interesting."
"That," he says, "is the ultimate carrot."