By Bridget McCrea
Employee onboarding can get lost in the weeds, especially when business is brisk. Vacant seats need to be filled quickly, and hiring managers are busy putting out their own daily fires.
In hopes that recently hired employees will step into their new roles quickly and effectively, employers may be tempted to skip over some steps or details during the onboarding process without realizing their importance.
Put simply: Don’t.
Critical factors to a new employee’s short-term success and a company’s long-term viability include:
- Developing accurate job descriptions for every position.
- Setting realistic job expectations.
- Communicating expectations clearly and consistently.
- Providing continuous, usable feedback.
Add training, mentoring and coaching to strengthen any onboarding process. This not only sets the tone for a positive company culture, but it also helps set individuals up for success in a tight labor market where skilled workers have become increasingly difficult to find, recruit and retain.
High employee turnover significantly impacts a company’s bottom line. Employee Benefits News reported that the average cost of losing an employee is 33% of that person’s annual salary. With 76% of companies admitting that their new employee onboarding processes are “underutilized” and about 22% of employees interviewing for new jobs because they don’t feel that their work is being recognized,1 it has never been a better time to bolster onboarding and training processes.
“With work staying pretty consistent regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for talent hasn’t changed,” said Bob Verchota, owner and senior consultant at RPVerchota & Associates. “Depending on their specific industry and geography, getting and keeping good people is a continuous challenge for most companies, including precasters.”
It Starts with an Accurate Job Description
Jotting down a few notes in hopes that prospects understand what they’re getting themselves into when they apply for a job is insufficient.
“Finding the best candidates starts with an accurate, detailed job description,” Verchota said. Every description should include the responsibilities, competencies, skills, experience and education required for each specific position.
“Make this the first thing you do when you’re looking to fill a position, particularly if you’re looking to onboard candidates, bring them up to a high-performance level as quickly as possible and retain them.”
When potential employees understand the work and responsibilities, they can self-select whether it’s a good fit for them.
Megan Kitchner, owner and general manager of Atlantic TNG, said nailing down specific job descriptions can be challenging for precasters who have a variety of positions to fill.
Verchota said the first step is to speak the language of the position, which means getting out onto the shop floor and documenting firsthand exactly what staff members are doing on a daily basis, then incorporating it into the job description. In other words, don’t leave this responsibility solely to a human resources representative to handle.
“Have someone who is working out on the floor draft or even dictate his or her own version of a job description and performance expectations,” Verchota said. “You can do the same thing with your engineers and sales teams, both of which can help to fill in some of the verbiage that’s being used to describe the positions the company is looking to fill.”
Polish Your Interview Process
Interviews help companies sort through top candidates and select people who are a good match. At StructureCast, owner and president Brent Dezember said the company does at least six sets of interviews during a six-week period when narrowing down manager candidates.
Prospects interview with their supervisors three times and then repeat the process with three different company managers using a predetermined list of questions and procedures focused on getting a feel for the candidate’s personality, skills and objectives.
“After each interview, the hiring committee gets together and compares notes,” Dezember said. “If they’re willing to go through a six-week interview process, great. If they’re not, we’re okay with that.”
After the third interview, StructureCast asks each candidate for the cell phone numbers of six personal and six business references.
“We call them after hours and ask them to give us a great reason why we should hire the potential candidate,” Dezember said. “If we get a call back is basically our answer to whether they can refer the person or not.”
For administrative positions, StructureCast reduces the number of interviews and personal and business references to three each. It may seem extreme to some, but Dezember said the process works well for the precaster, which put the hiring system in place about 10 years ago. It has shown to find good fits right out of the gate, and it also gives candidates an in-depth view of the company’s culture, processes and mission.
“Whenever we cut a corner, cheat or skip some steps in the hiring process, we get burned every time,” Dezember said.
Let them Preview the Job
Along with conducting a thorough interview process, Verchota recommends bringing candidates onsite to see the company’s operations in action. When applicants take a facility tour and observe the work in person, they come away with a better idea as to whether they can perform those tasks.
“This is a self-selection process that puts the responsibility on both parties to determine whether you have a good fit between employer and employee,” Verchota said. “It also ensures that candidates have an honest understanding of the work, the capabilities required and the expectations for the position.
“It’s not enough to just hire someone, give them an employee handbook and have them sign on the dotted line to prove that they read all of the policies and procedures. For best results, you have to share expectations, give them a taste of the job they’ll be doing, and use an onboarding process that sets them up for success.”
Then the Training Kicks in
Atlantic TNG has new employees visit the NPCA website to review the more than 100 courses focused on training new and existing workers on the finer points of precast concrete manufacturing and business management. Based on the position, the company uses NPCA’s safety, production and other webinars and training resources to help initiate and train new hires.
“There’s always something for every job that we have here,” said Kitchner, who incorporates NPCA’s education into both individual and group training. “It’s a great resource for us to use as part of our onboarding and training process.”
The online training goes hand-in-hand with a thorough plant tour hosted by the company’s production and safety managers.
“We cover as much as we can within an hour or two,” she said. “That gives them a good start and an understanding of our whole operation.”
The initial tour provides an overwhelming amount of information, and sometimes new hires do not yet have the background knowledge or context to digest everything they see and hear the first time around. So the tour should be repeated after a few weeks. This allows the new employees to apply context to the last couple weeks’ worth of training and learning to what they’re seeing and hearing again.
At StructureCast, all new employees go through a three-month training program and are paired with mentors who help them through that process via weekly meetings.
The training can be extended and modules repeated as needed.
“At the end of three months, we wind up with an employee who is pretty well set up to improve the company from their point of view,” Dezember said.
Keep the Process Going
In today’s competitive labor environment, the “set it and forget” approach to employee hiring doesn’t work. Younger generations, in particular, require a steady flow of feedback, support and mentoring.
With up to 71% of young people in the workforce feeling disengaged from their jobs, and more than half of new employees expected to leave their current jobs within 12 months,2 precasters should establish continuous, two-way feedback loops that include scheduled reviews and skill assessments that help workers, mentors and employers track progress and understand where they need to improve.
“In the plant, each shop has a quality control technician who is responsible for 10 to 20 employees,” Kitchner said. “That technician makes sure employees are trained on the processes (e.g., knocking out a hole, pouring, finishing) according to a checklist.”
The technician also monitors employees for punctuality, attitude and behavior, providing continual feedback to employees and managers in those areas as well.
This approach works for Atlantic TNG and companies that have taken a similar approach.
“We have a better group of employees than we had just a couple years ago,” Kitchner said. “They take more pride in what they’re doing, receive continual feedback and tend to get more excited about their accomplishments.”PI
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.