By Bridget McCrea
In the May-June issue of Precast Inc., precasters Paul Heidt of Garden State Precast and John Lendrum of Norwalk Concrete Industries opened up about the challenges they were facing in their quests to find good employees. More and more difficult to come by thanks to a healthier job market and improving national economy, finding and keeping good staff members requires more than just a good recruiting effort. Employee training and ongoing support are equally important and can determine whether that new recruit stays in the position or moves along to a new opportunity.
Full employment ahead?
No longer operating in a market where jobs are difficult to come by, precasters need to step up if they want to keep their top talent onboard and happy. According to the recent Bloomberg article, Tight Job Market in U.S. Cities Prompts Higher Pay, companies across the United States from Texas to Virginia and Nebraska are struggling to fill positions as jobless rates sink below the 5.2 % to 5.6 % level the Federal Reserve regards as full employment nationally.
Competition for workers is prompting businesses to raise wages, Bloomberg reports, increase hours for current employees, add benefits and recruit from other regions. The trend is expected to continue. “There are spot labor shortages that probably will broaden out over the next year as the job market steadily improves,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., in the article.
Blair said manufacturers face several unique challenges in their quests to keep workers trained and engaged. The fact that many of these firms are known to be male dominated – particularly in the plant and out in the yard – limits the potential labor pool. Additionally, the common notion that top candidates will simply fall into place and pick up the necessary skills and knowledge from existing, experienced workers out in the precast plant doesn’t always pan out.
“Too often, companies assume that if they’ve done good jobs of finding the best candidates,” said Blair, “that others will jump in and guide those new workers to success. That doesn’t always happen.” In fact, when the opposite happens, Blair said precasters can wind up wasting a lot of money and time on recruiting and hiring processes that don’t pay off. To avoid this common trap, she said companies must establish orientation, training, and support programs designed to keep employees engaged and satisfied for the long term – not just during the initial honeymoon period.
“Manufacturers need to focus on not losing staff members that they’ve worked so hard to attract and recruit,” said Blair, “and learn how to effectively engage those individuals in the core of the company.” A good starting point, she adds, is a simple introduction to the company itself that go’s beyond the traditional information and provides more about the firm, its leadership team, its mission and what it stands for. Structure the introduction like a strategy planning session and orchestrate it within the employee’s first month or two on the job. “That’s the best way for both new and existing employees to get to know what the company is really about,” she adds.
Next, establish a solid orientation program that introduces employees to the company and helps them get acclimated to their new jobs. Manage this step correctly and the chances that your new hires will thrive in their new positions will increase exponentially. Ignore this step, said Blair, and it may not be long before that great recent hire is filling out job applications for new positions. Put the company’s leaders in charge of the sessions, as opposed to the human resources department, said Blair, and ask them to discuss their own experiences with the firm, how they rose up through the ranks, what their current roles are and so forth. Do the meetings within the first week of employment and be prepared to answer questions posed by new hires.
Orientation sessions are also good venues for matching new workers up with mentors, or those existing/veteran workers who can offer additional support to the new recruits over time. Those mentors don’t necessarily have to come from within a specific department or have a certain job title, said Blair, who tells precasters to tap different organizational departments for good mentoring candidates. “Your primary goal should be to pair up individuals who have a natural affinity to one another,” said Blair, “and who work well together.”
Getting them up to speed
As an associate professor of management at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, Keith Rollag has been studying new hire and onboarding strategies for the past 20 years. He’s also come across numerous effective strategies for training new hires that he said companies tend to overlook in their quest to get warm bodies into job openings.
“The most important step that companies need to take when onboarding new employees is to help them develop the relationships they need to get up to speed quickly and be successful on the job,” said Rollag, who adds that much of the technical information that new hires need to know can often be done more efficiently and effectively online, and frequently can be outsourced to companies specializing in online learning. The problem, he adds, is companies can’t outsource the need to get new hires connected to teammates, experts and key resources within their group and across the company.
“Introductions are often the most critical factor in rapid onboarding,” said Rollag, “but over half of the newcomers I’ve interviewed have been unhappy with the quantity and quality of interviews they’ve received from managers.” Much of that unhappiness stems from the fact that companies populate their new hire orientations with long lectures about company objectives, technologies and employee policies – most of which newcomers will quickly forget.
“What new hires remember and value from new hire orientations are the people they meet, not the information they receive,” said Rollag. “Knowing this, new hire orientations need to be designed accordingly.” Like Blair, Rollag said companies can extract real value by pairing up new hires with existing employees. A mentor must be approachable and open to questions, and also have the answers to those questions. They must be able to relate to the new employee as well.
Don’t just turn them loose
In the rush to get new employees up to speed and productive, many manufacturers forget to provide the minimal levels of training needed for those new recruits. This can pose significant challenges for precast manufacturers, none of which can afford the downtime associated with errors or the dangers posed by poor work safety habits. “The minimum required training isn’t always sufficient for all workers,” said Thomas E. Boyce, president at the Center for Behavioral Safety LLC, in San Carlos, California. “The biggest complaint I hear from new employees is that they haven’t been adequately trained before being put into their roles in the field.”
Even well-meaning companies can fall into this trap, said Boyce, who has seen more than one company offer up initial classroom training with the expectation that the worker is up to speed and ready to get to work.
“By observing employees during the course of work, manufacturers can see if they’re performing the behaviors that they’ve been trained to perform…or not,” Boyce continues. “Then, companies need to find ways to fill in any recognized gaps.” Technical and regulatory training can typically be done in-house, for example, while leadership, communication, motivation and behavior change training can be outsourced to a third party firm that specializes in these areas.
And don’t overlook the need for follow-up training, coaching and support for your valued employees, said Boyce, who advises precasters to create an infrastructure that includes the training itself plus feedback from mentors/coaches on specific employees’ performance. “The key is to close the loop from classroom training to the expected performance in the field,” said Boyce. “Achieving that goal requires some level of
coaching – often one-on-one – that goes beyond just turning new workers loose to do their jobs.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.