How Do We Recruit the Next Generation of Skilled Workers?

Written By: Mark Colzani

Recruiting Skilled Workers

Recruiting the next generation of skilled workers is vital to the future of manufacturing.

I regularly hear from manufacturing business leaders about how hard it is to attract and retain top skilled workers for manufacturing. I know firsthand how hard it is to bring on the next generation of craftsmen in our plant. There are many reasons for this shortage, but I think a lot of it stems back to lack of a successful career path for our young people coming out of high school who want to enter the workforce.

I am a big proponent of secondary education and feel strongly that if a student wants to pursue more schooling after high school they should be encouraged to do so. I also think we need to educate students starting as early as junior high school of all options after high school, not just college. We need to encourage them: If they have other interests and talents that are more hands on, they can create a very fulfilling and good paying career in the skilled trades.

Automation as a Job Creator

Our company creates custom automation equipment for material handling and manufacturing clients to make their operations more efficient. Some may argue that this automation “takes away jobs”, but in reality, it is a net job creator. First off, the automation needs to be built, tested, installed and commissioned at the beginning of the project. Once up and running, it takes a staff of skilled technicians to maintain the system and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

Making US companies more efficient means more manufacturing here at home, which is fuel to our local economies and communities and creates a need for skilled resources to run these plants. The face of these manufacturing jobs will likely continue to evolve – low skilled repetitive jobs will continue to be automated. We need to recruit and train this next generation of employees to continue to build our manufacturing economy.

Developing the Next Generation of Skilled Workers

It’s great to see there are a number of educators and organizations that are focused on developing this next generation of skilled labor. Some that we have been working with are local career centers affiliated with central Indiana high schools, or what used to be referred to as “Vocational Schools”. They are reaching out to our youth who are not interested in college and giving them an opportunity to learn a skill that can get them a good job that grows into a career.

Skill sets and associated programs directly related to automation are welding technology, machining, electronics, etc. However, we also look for students who are interested in the building trades, auto technician and auto collision repair programs. We realize that a junior in high school may not know exactly what he or she wants to do upon graduation, but these students tend to be very mechanically inclined and a great fit for our philosophy of having a “desire and ability to learn” the skills needed.

It is up to us in the manufacturing and automation sector to proactively reach out to our youth to tell them about what we do. There are several ways to do this such as:

  • Present at career days at your local schools. Tell them about the products you make, the positions you hire for, how these positions fit in your organization, characteristics of employees you hire and your company culture.
  • Work with local career centers and guidance counselors. We both have the same goals: to give students the tools they need to be successful in their careers. A strong working relationship with the teachers and administrators is a great recruiting tool.
  • Invite school groups for plant tours. Show them the products you make and how various skilled positions contribute to the overall process.
  • Mentor and/or sponsor local organizations such as Project Lead the Way and FIRST Robotics. While many of these students in these groups go on to college, there are still others involved that may be looking to enter the workforce upon high school graduation.
  • Promote career-focused activities. Have students participate in ICE (Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education) or internship opportunities while they’re in school.
  • Encourage your employees to be ambassadors for what you do.  Your employees’ contacts–whether friends, family, church, etc–could easily become your next employee.  In fact, some of our best employees have come from team referrals.
  • Tell your company’s story. In general, tell the story behind what goes on in those big buildings students drive by every day!

Skilled trade jobs are a vital part of our manufacturing future in America. It is up to us in the manufacturing and automation sectors to educate, inspire and encourage our youth to build the next generation of craftsmen.

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