Editor’s Note: This is the second article of a four-part series on attracting, training and retaining talent.
By Alex Morales, M. Ed.
What comes to mind when you think about millennials? The manufacturing workforce shortage is real, which means we need to think through our perceptions of millennials and ensure we focus on how to effectively integrate them into our workforce. A recent study by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization in Washington, D.C., predicts that by 2025 up to 75% of the workforce will be millennials. 1 You simply can’t remain competitive if you focus on the negatives of 75% of the workforce when the overall number of available employees is dwindling.
UNDERSTAND THE NEW GENERATION
In order to understand millennials and the Gen Z generation (those born between 1995 and 2010), keep in mind they know only a digitally connected world. When precasters and suppliers work to find plant talent today, you’re not just competing against other NPCA members, you’re also competing against industries that didn’t exist 10 years ago. That’s going to be increasingly true in 2025. Your tried-and-true human resource practices and policies will need refining, as will your general approach to onboarding.
Moreover, we need to accept that manufacturing environments, like precast, are relatively standard production environments that have not changed drastically in decades. That’s not to say there haven’t been innovative concrete technology or automation advancements over the years. But day-to-day tasks on most manufacturing production floors are basically the same today and we’re facing a new generation that society has conditioned to look for the next new thing: the latest smart phone, app, etc.
THE NEW NORMAL
Hiring and interviewing practices tend to focus on the company’s needs. But during today’s hiring process, we should think more in terms of what employees are looking for, which may be a huge change for small businesses. In a recent report, “Evolution of Work 2.0: The Me vs. We Mindset,” ADP Research International states, “while … a global workforce led to more efficient and streamlined business practices, they have also created a one-size-fits-all script to HR policies that risks being too impersonal to attract and retain the best talent.”
That’s important to understand. Our HR practices must evolve to be more personal even in the pre-hiring phase.
Remember, information is easily available to today’s employees who are always online, can constantly share job-related details with one another and maintain social networks that employers may never see. Employees have access to a plethora of information about what other employees are doing and what other companies are offering them. This is the new normal.
A connected world is an HR challenge in the manufacturing sector of our economy because, as many have experienced, some employees will leave even if another opportunity offers just a minimal increase in pay. That’s a sign showing we’re not focused on the right incentives to stay and, consequently, don’t have the right package to attract new employees.
As a new generation of employees enters the workforce, they bring with them a unique set of expectations of their employers regarding work-life balance, employee-focused working conditions and personalized opportunities for advancement, to name a few.2 Manufacturers must come to terms with those expectations and adjust their own if they’re going to succeed in hiring and keeping employees. We’ll talk more about keeping employees in the fourth article of this series on retention strategies.
All generations say they struggle with work-life balance. Remaining connected after work hours and feeling guilty about taking all their vacation days are common themes, but work-life balance is defined differently by younger employees. For instance, millennials and Gen Zers are more comfortable being constantly connected than previous generations and are more likely to work during off-hours and do non-work tasks during work hours. Access to social media is often an impediment on the precast concrete plant floor; however, plant-floor employees are more likely to feel disengaged from life when work disallows them access to their devices.
In an employee engagement study, Randstad USA found that 45% of U.S. employees “say their bosses don’t help them disconnect from work while on vacation.”3 Make sure there is consistency between your policy regarding cell phone usage while at work and your actions when employees are not on the clock. If you disallow employees access to their devices during work hours, you should be as strict about not engaging them during off-hours or while they are on vacation. Otherwise, they might not see you as providing fair work-life balance.
Employee-focused working conditions
Work-life balance is closely related to flexible work schedules. While automation can create high-tech jobs in the industry with strict pour schedules and stripping times, it is more difficult to provide a traditional type of flexible schedule in precast manufacturing. Hence, improving working conditions is important to help your plant stand out as the better manufacturer to work for locally.
Make sure overall employee experience is considered. Well-kept locker rooms, access to a well-resourced lunch room and even the installation of showers for plant-floor employees can improve their sense of well-being. These amenities can also help your plant stand out among local competitors and attract employees because, remember, they will share their experiences (see related story on page 20).
Personalized opportunities for advancement
If the baby boom generation was the “me” generation, some call millennials the “me, me, me” generation, with anecdotes about being coddled and everybody getting a trophy. Discussions about participation trophies aside, it’s important to view younger generations’ expectations through a job satisfaction lens. Personalized approaches can appear to be daunting to HR. How can you give employees individual attention and convince them to choose your precast plant as a long-term career, and still get your own work done?
NPCA’s Precast University is a great way to tout your company’s commitment to individual employees, and it’s a built-in personalized program. Hopefully, you’re already taking advantage of this program and are committed to training your employees for the long term. If not, visit precast.org/precastuniversity. Use that commitment as a recruiting tool and work with your new employees to learn if they’re interested in production, production leadership, quality, safety or technical training. The Master Precaster designation is a worthwhile long-term goal but remember to engage your new employees in conversations about their individual interests and let them know you will invest in them, their choices, and their career. We’ll dive further into the training topic in the next installment of this series but, for now, think of training as a recruiting tool. If you haven’t done so, documenting your commitment to training employees may serve as a morale-boost purpose for you. Of course, this effort to personalize the employee experience is pointless if you can’t find new employees in the first place.
SEARCHING FOR TALENT
At the end of each article in the remainder of this series, we’ll showcase a precaster that is on the leading edge of workforce development initiatives. Here, we’ll take a look at what Gainey’s Concrete Products is doing to attract new talent to their plant.
High schools are challenging places for manufacturers to incubate future talent, primarily because school systems (and parents!) are conditioned to encourage their children to pursue advanced degrees. In most cases, high schools are incentivized to improve their college placement rates but some school districts are realizing that not all high school graduates have personal aspirations to obtain advanced degrees. Hence, high school career fairs are a good place to start.
“We speak at local high schools for career day, and we send notices to guidance counselors at the end of the school year of openings for graduating seniors who do not intend to immediately go to college,” said Lisa Roache, COO of Gainey’s Concrete Products.
Although some have considered a push for elementary school-aged children to be introduced to local precast careers, for more immediate results it’s best to focus on high school upper classmen.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor and publishes myriad resources on its website.4 The site includes a toolkit specific to hiring qualified veterans, and the current administration has even established the HIRE Vets Medallion Program to recognize employers who hire our nation’s heroes. Plants that successfully work with local veterans administrations are encouraged to take part in the program at hirevets.gov.
Work release programs
Gainey’s also participates in work release programs and in two drug rehabilitation programs. Work release programs are a great way to promote community involvement as your company works to employ those who have completed their debt to society.
Gainey’s goes the extra mile participating in drug rehabilitation programs, which speaks to their efforts to personalize the employment experience for the current workforce. Roache goes on to explain that Gainey’s is trying to get a grant to set up transitional housing. As a workforce development initiative, this is a fantastic example of personalizing the employment experience for their employees. It undoubtedly takes a lot of work, but such is the task of ensuring precast concrete is the preferred manufacturing industry of employment in your local market. Gainey’s is focused on the positive, mutual benefit of their employment relationship with new employees – and that’s what it takes to ensure your precast plant is successfully finding talent well into the future.
UP NEXT: TRAINING
In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at how training is more than an onboarding initiative. Some precasters are realizing the importance of continued training and assisting their employees with life-skills outside of on-the-job skills necessary to succeed in precast. This hits on several important workforce development initiatives and can set your plant apart from other manufacturing options available to your local talent.
Alex Morales, M. Ed., is NPCA’s director of workforce development.
2,3 Employee Engagement study, Randstad USA