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Help Wanted

July 13, 2007
Manufacturers facing a talent shortage need to proactively search for the next generation of employees.

"Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink," reads a line from The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.

Manufacturers face a similar dilemma when they are looking for skilled employees to man machines and design products.

There are workers out there. After all, the number of unemployed persons (6.8 million) and the unemployment rate (4.5%) have essentially gone unchanged since September 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Labor Department. Couple that with findings from a recent Manpower Inc. annual Talent Shortage Survey that lists technician, laborer and machine operator as three of the 10 hardest-to-fill jobs, and it is evident that there is a problem getting workers to buy in to manufacturing careers. The truth: Manufacturing isn't sexy -- at least in the eyes of high school kids and recent college graduates.

Like the Ancient Mariner, manufacturers must deal with the albatross that is the shrinking workforce.

One manufacturer ready to shed the dirty jobs image for a sexier persona is Nucor Corp.

To entice younger workers into its steel plants, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company has come up with a grass-roots advertising campaign aimed at showing the hip side of being a steel maker -- or as the company puts it: "How we turn molten steel into burning passion."

In one ad, the company explains why kids want to be in the steel business when they grow up. "As any self-respecting kid knows, Nucor is a favorite of Fortune and Forbes, annually making their lists of America's top companies. Ranking us right up there as a career choice with astronaut, fireman and cowboy."

Bringing Sexy Back

For the most part, the younger generation has been trained to think of only two career options: college or the military. There is a third choice, according to Melanie Holmes, vice president of corporate affairs at Milwaukee-based Manpower, an employment-services provider and consultancy.

10 Hardest-To-Fill
Jobs In The U.S.

  1. Sales Representative
  2. Teacher
  3. Mechanic
  4. Technician
  5. Management/Executive
  6. Truck Driver
  7. Driver/Delivery
  8. Accountant
  9. Laborer
  10. Machine Operator

10 Hardest-To-Fill
Jobs Worldwide

  1. Sales Representative
  2. Skilled Manual Trade Worker
  3. Technician
  4. Engineer
  5. Accounting and Finance Staff
  6. Laborer
  7. Production Operator
  8. Driver
  9. Management/Executive
  10. Machinist/Operator

Source: 2007 Manpower Inc. Annual Talent Shortage Survey

"The third choice is the trades. It is frustrating because it is not made out to be a good career. But people can make a lot of money, and they don't have to take their jobs home with them like many of us do in the service and knowledge industries," Holmes says.

But Holmes warns that employers need to stop boo-hooing about the problem and get out there and do something. She suggests partnering with area schools or offering internships, apprenticeships and summer jobs to show kids that manufacturing is a good career choice.

Another way to get results: Take on City Hall.

"In Milwaukee everyone is trying to find welders; it's kind of like the job opening du jour," explains Holmes. "One of the manufacturers went to the mayor's office and said, You have to help me with this. I can't do my job and my company isn't competitive. If you don't want companies closing here in Milwaukee, you need to help me.'"

The company got its answer when it teamed with the mayor and worked together to identify people in the community who could work as welders.

In addition to partnering with local schools, Day & Zimmermann, a Philadelphia-based provider of craft labor to the power industry, works with the International Building Trades to identify skilled labor, notes L. Scott Cook, director of human resources for Day & Zimmermann's power services and engineering and field services businesses.

In addition, Day & Zimmermann utilizes several outreach programs, including Helmets To Hardhats, which is for military personnel coming off of assignment, and Crayons To CAD, which targets a younger generation thinking about computer-aided design as a career choice.

"It's shared accountability," says Cook. "It could be approaching the [customers] and getting them to help with funding or with accepting folks that are in a training mode or an apprentice mode. We need to be able to build and acquire the skills that we are going to need long term, not just for the work we are doing now or this coming fall."

Day & Zimmermann also is concerned with what the younger generation has to say about manufacturing.

The candid answers reveal a lot about how manufacturers are doing things wrong when it comes to attracting younger workers.

For example, the younger generation learns differently and is exposed to things much more quickly.

"The old notion of an apprenticeship, where you serve X number of years or X number of hours and if you do this for 15 or 20 years maybe we will let you be a site manager for $3 an hour more -- that's not attractive anymore," says Cook.

While the old methods may need attention, there still needs to be a mix of workers and there needs to be succession planning, according to Jeffrey A. Owens, president and COO, Advanced Technology Services Inc. (ATS), a Peoria, Ill.-based supplier of outsourced factory maintenance, industrial component repair and IT services.

"I'm a big believer in having quite a mix of people," says Owens. "Where we've gotten ourselves into trouble in manufacturing is that we have this aged workforce that is going to leave and take their knowledge with them."

Rallying for recruits and manufacturing workers, Green Berets parachuted into the ATS parking lot.Echoing the tactics of Manpower and Day & Zimmermann, ATS also goes on a mission to high schools and junior colleges to talk about manufacturing.

"You use your brain more than you use your back, especially in maintenance," says Owens. "You have to let them know there are a lot of challenging, appealing aspects involved in manufacturing."

Another method that ATS uses to recruit workers is working with the military. According to Owens, veterans make up 25% of the ATS workforce.

"They have been trained to be on time; they have a great work ethic and they are technically competent."

To lasso veterans, ATS has formed a partnership with military recruiters. When they are out recruiting young people to enter the military, they speak about the opportunities to work with companies like ATS after the recruit's service is at an end.

To kick off the partnership, ATS hosted a skydiving event with the U.S. Army's Green Beret Jump Team.

"They are a little dramatic, so they brought in tanks and fighting vehicles and set up a stage to sign this document," says Owens. "They had three guys jump from an airplane and they landed in our parking lot and brought an ink pen out for us to sign the agreement."

Reiterating his mantra of mix, Owens describes a recent new employee orientation that he hosted.

"I was really pleased to see the mix in that room. We had guys who used to work for U.S. Steel, and they said what they like about the company is that we take a look at the older generation and are not afraid to hire guys who are in their 50s.

"Then we had people who just graduated with their engineering degree. We had an intern who just completed his first year of his MBA. We had high school interns; we had middle-aged people we hired from outside, and we had people from the military. It's neat to see these people sharing and working together. That's what we need in manufacturing: all the great experience that the older guys have, sharing it with the younger generation."

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