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Want to Improve Your Talent Pool? Invest Meaningfully in Your Community

July 28, 2022
Three approaches to outreach that give manufacturers an excellent return on their time

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 47 million Americans left their jobs voluntarily in 2021.

Much analysis has come to surface regarding the impetus behind what many have called “the great resignation,” with some concluding that the pandemic is primarily at fault. However, commentary has been slim regarding what businesses should do to prevent critical workers from leaving their team moving forward.

The U.S. manufacturing industry was certainly not spared in terms of a substantial uptick in workers deciding to walk away from the job. With this retention issue seemingly not going away any time soon, American manufacturing executives need to work hard and creatively to rebuild their work force in a sustainable fashion.

The first step in doing so is to consider implementing a system of mentorship that will allow employees to feel both valued and invested in. Here are just a few ways in which American manufacturing companies can work toward developing a mentorship program at their place of work that will incentivize employees to stay and pass on their expertise to the next generation.

Create Meaningful Relationships with Local Institutions

Local institutions can help provide talent, particularly local schools and technical colleges. Technical colleges already have students who are a looking to get involved in some type of trade, but manufacturing executives should take the time to meet and get to know teachers at the school or college because these individuals can serve as positive ambassadors for your company. An investment of just a few hours per year of your time can pay dividends for years to come. Here are a few effective ways to serve:

Volunteer for an advisory council in a related program or course. Many technical college programs have dedicated advisory councils, made up of industry people who help keep courses up-to-date and relevant. Not only will you get to know the instructors and their curriculum, but you also may be able to support them in a more tangible way – like donating new equipment or providing additional funds to boost their technical infrastructure.

Sponsor scholarships. Through a customized scholarship program, your company could incentivize future hires with specific criteria—whether that includes exceptional performance in technical classes, enthusiasm for the profession or genuine interest in working on your company’s various projects. Even a small scholarship of $5,000 - $10,000 could make a big difference for the selected candidate and provide current students with the flexibility to pursue part-time jobs and internships with your company that they may not have had the bandwidth for otherwise. Sponsoring a scholarship program further increases your company’s direct involvement in local education programs, allowing you more touchpoints with the workers of tomorrow.

Become an adjunct professor. You can be your own company ambassador by investing the time to teach an occasional class. Not only will students receive an outside, industry-applicable lesson, but professors will also appreciate if your instruction complements their existing curriculum. As an adjunct professor, you can develop more meaningful relationships with students and effectively showcase what a day-in-the-life at your company can offer them.

An even more forward-thinking solution would be to connect with these students before they select a college. For example, recruitment and advocacy for the profession can start at the high school level by offering part-time summer work programs where students can explore the possibilities of the profession with your company. In addition to holding training courses onsite during their internship or work period, the management team can explore sponsoring night school or technical college programs if the student continues to work with the company. This can help increase the volume of students able to pursue post-high-school education in the manufacturing sector and build loyalty with your company when it comes times for the job search.

Build Loyalty in the Community

As mentioned, developing a meaningful mentorship program means touching base with potential candidates before they are even start thinking about their careers. This can also mean meeting the students where they are, outside of educational institutions.

Whether you’re putting on a demonstration at local trade symposiums, contributing to charities, or helping with local projects, citizens take note of what their local businesses are doing for the community—which can lead to high praise and, with a little luck, recommending the company as a great place to build a career.

A strong example of this comes from Coldspring, a natural stone and metals fabricator headquartered in Cold Spring, Minnesota. Coldspring recently saw a need in their community and rushed to help. During the pandemic, a local high school was unable to host graduation unless it was done outside. The granite and metal fabrication company stepped up and sponsored an upgraded outdoor facility complete with a big screen for the ceremony to take place, earning loyalty with community members and creating a core memory for students who might decide to pursue a career with Coldspring in the future.

Greg Flint, Coldspring President and COO, says he has also built long-term strong relationships with superintendents, principals and teachers at the surrounding regional high schools and community/technical colleges. Coldspring regularly finds ways to bring school administrators, students and their parents in to expose them to potential long-term career opportunities. For example, they sponsor the local VEX Robotics teams and assist them with the competition.

Think of Employees in Terms of Decades, Not Years

Flint says Coldspring also thinks of their employees in terms of decades, not just in the short term. Of their approximately 750 employees, Coldspring has 250 employees that have spent 25 years or more with the company – that’s loyalty. Throughout those years, the company has helped many of their associates through both professional and personal challenges, building a connection with them as full human beings as opposed to just cogs in the larger company machine. Research shows that employees who feel they have been invested in tend to not just stay longer, but perform better as well.

Manufacturing companies can also increase employee loyalty and satisfaction by taking the time to invest in continuing education programs so that their team members have the opportunity to keep up with rapidly changing industry processes and technologies.

Further, they can constantly strengthen culture by assigning internal mentors to junior team members and having sincere conversations with their employees about where they see themselves in five, 10 or 15 years to develop an official plan for achieving each person’s unique goals.

The Time Is Now

American businesses across the country are still dealing with the issue of retaining talent, and simply can’t afford to wait for the government to offer viable solutions. “Building a deep bench” is vitally important as baby boomers retire and newer generations see a shift in professional priorities.

The manufacturing sector has recognized that it was difficult even before the pandemic to find and retain top talent, but implementing a culture of investment through educational investment, community outreach and internal employee mentorship programs will be a critical step toward improving recruitment and retention.

Myron Moser is a strategic advisory board member for business consultancy alliantgroup and chairman emeritus of Hartfiel Automation Inc. He is also chairman of the foundation board at Hennepin Technical College, the largest technical college in the state of Minnesota. 

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