Now is the time for business owners to become actively involved in workforce development efforts.
By Alex Morales, M. Ed.
The plant-floor labor pool is the backbone of the precast workforce. But long gone are the days when manufacturing drove the U.S. economy and labor was plentiful. The convergence of technological, generational and economic shifts has resulted in challenges for precast manufacturers across the country. Young generations entering the workforce are influenced by high-tech, mobile careers. Precast human resource managers and executives agree that finding skilled labor gets harder with each passing year, and all the data points to the trend continuing.
While national efforts to address workforce issues abound, these efforts are less fruitful if local organizations and individual plants are not actively engaging in the process. But how does a single plant take advantage of myriad national workforce efforts to ensure it has the right talent on the production floor, the right quality personnel conducting plant quality inspections and the right tradesmen and women practicing their craft on the production floor? It takes an HR commitment to grow beyond simply posting job advertisements and waiting to see who applies.
At a minimum, local companies should inventory their current HR initiatives and compare them to the recommendations from national organizations that have studied the workforce issue and published their findings. Those findings agree there will be more manufacturing jobs than job applicants. One prediction puts that shortfall in the 2-3 million range by 2025. That doesn’t give individual precasters a lot of time.
In our recent workforce development series, we compared various points of research and showcased what some precasters are doing to make themselves more attractive to the local workforce than competing manufacturers. However, while researching for that series, we also discovered many precasters that simply rely on national efforts to attract the workforce without making any internal adjustments to their HR practices. That creates a disconnect between your plant and the potential employees the industry reaches.
National outreach efforts
NPCA’s outreach effort represents a multipronged approach to ensure the continued success of the precast industry. The most visible efforts, such as specifier webinars and getting precast concrete options into specifications, may lead you to believe outreach is solely about increasing the market share of precast concrete. However, there’s also a push to introduce precast concrete careers to the available talent pool that will be integral to precast businesses in the future.
Over the past year, NPCA has given presentations to university engineering classrooms to incorporate precast concrete into the curricula, participated in construction management associations to showcase precast concrete manufacturing as a viable construction-related management career and exhibited at career fairs that represent a variety of trades. We present about once per month to university classrooms around the country and more outreach opportunities are expected for the 2019-2020 academic year. NPCA’s success in this arena, and the receptiveness of the students, shows there is a hunger to learn about other career options for students.
Local workforce efforts
A national presence alone, while important to help keep precast top-of-mind as a career option, cannot single-handedly ensure our contacts end up at your plant.
According to consulting firm Deloitte Insights, during the last decade of economic expansion, organizations have focused on finding the right talent to drive business growth. But with record-low unemployment rates and skills shortages in many technical areas, recruiting has gotten harder. Rather than automatically opening a job requisition when a manager needs a role filled, it’s time to think about how organizations can continuously ‘access talent’ in varying ways.1
What this means is individual plants must ramp up their commitment to workforce development by first revamping their traditional HR strategies.
Many precasters likely already know what employee positions will be needed in the next year based on their current backlog. But, do you know what your individual plant’s workforce needs will be in 2025? A long-term look at workforce needs may reveal a need to prepare a current employee for a larger or different role.
“First and foremost, organizations should look much more strategically at moving current employees into available opportunities across the enterprise,” said Deloitte Insights. “Reskilling an internal hire may take a year or so, but it can be done for as little as one-sixth the cost of hiring an external candidate.”
This is an important exercise for precast plants, not just because it is fiscally advantageous but also because it clarifies what roles and positions you will be needing in the future. As you invest in current talent, you are actively involved in a retention activity, but also clearly defining the type of employee you need to hire next. Instead of being reactive to the ebbs and flows of the economy and the amount of work you obtain, you are proactively engaged in workforce planning.
Cultivating future talent
NPCA’s outreach program has had success introducing students across the country to precast concrete. Throughout 2018 and into 2019, professional staff have been reaching out to local producers whenever they were in the area presenting to specifiers. Through the remainder of 2019 and beyond, the same will happen when we are in your local area presenting to colleges and universities so you can participate or just attend. Visit precast.org/working-for-you for data on the impact in this area.
Of particular importance is participating in local career fairs or recruiting events. HR representatives may not present technical information to a classroom, but can play a key role locally when universities or technical colleges invite NPCA professional staff to exhibit. Look out for a call later this year if we’re in your area.
As the workforce development arm of NPCA’s outreach efforts reaches more and more students interested in a potential precast career, local plants will play a pivotal role in showcasing specific jobs available to local employees. The plant that has conducted an internal workforce strategic plan will be able to successfully convert NPCA’s national contacts to your plant’s newest employee.
Alex Morales, M. Ed., is NPCA’s director of workforce development.