By Claude Goguen, PE, LEED-AP
Finding good employees and keeping them has become a major challenge for most employers, including those within the precast concrete industry.
In the 2020 NPCA Precast Industry Benchmarking Report, company leaders were asked about the most significant challenge businesses will face during the next five years. Of the respondents, 44.9% replied that retaining employees is No. 1.
Not long ago, precast concrete manufacturers were forced to lay off employees during slower times because of a lack of work. Today, many precast producers find themselves turning down projects and other opportunities during a good economy, in part because of a lack of employees to complete the work.
The precast concrete industry is not alone. Manufacturing sectors across the spectrum face the same challenges. According to the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, the average U.S. manufacturing employee turnover is about 37%, meaning more than a third of all workers leave each year. Within the precast concrete industry, when it comes to hourly workers, that number jumps to 54%.
Companies are looking to turn this trend around. An effective strategy to recruit qualified employees in a fiercely competitive market is critical, and making a workplace more appealing to new recruits while properly training and motivating them helps reduce employee attrition.
The best way to do that is through the newly launched NPCA Onboarding Program, which offers the road map and tools that members are looking for.
WHAT IS ONBOARDING?
Onboarding is the process of introducing newly hired employees to your organization’s expectations, behaviors and culture while providing the training and motivation to efficiently become a productive part of the team. The
NPCA Onboarding Program includes orientation, training and performance assessments from the moment of hire to the first year of employment and beyond. The program supports candidates who are good fits for the jobs they are hired to do and helps identify others who may be miscast.
But most important, it provides a structured, consistent means of appealing to the kind of employees that companies are competing for.
KNOW YOUR WORKFORCE
In order to maximize the Onboarding Program’s impact, it is important to know the prospect pool. The people applying for work at precast concrete facilities have changed significantly during the past 30 to 40 years.
A good wage and attractive benefits remain important, but in this competitive hiring environment, it takes more to attract and keep today’s candidates. The more you know about their preferences and motivations, the better you will be prepared to offer the opportunities they are seeking.
An open mind is an important first step. Branding young candidates as “lazy” and “entitled” is a self-sabotaging behavior. Move past those stigmas and focus on finding a balance that appeals to their priorities while still emphasizing loyalty and performance.
The largest percentage of potential employees available in the United States are millennials – also known as Generation Y. Members of this group were born between 1985-95 and represent about a third of today’s workforce, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. This proportion will continue to grow as older generations retire.
The next largest group of potential employees is Generation Z, who were born from 1996 onward. Gen Z and millennials have a few main characteristics in common: Both groups are very comfortable with modern technology, and many expect a technology-driven application process. They also share the need to know the deeper purpose of what they do.
For example, telling a millennial or Gen Z candidate that you make septic tanks and grease interceptors may not seem motivational to them. Instead, say: “We produce wastewater treatment products that help protect the environment.”
THE MILLENNIAL AND GEN Z MINDSET
Millennials prefer a well-structured training program that caters to the need for skill development and potentially could lead to future career advancement, including leadership positions. Consider allowing them to work remotely if their job responsibilities can be completed outside the office.
Millennials care about performance quality and judge their managers by the content of their work. They, in turn, want to be judged for their results – not for the hours they spend on the phone, in the office or on the production floor. When communicating about work with millennials, it is best to take a transparent approach, making sure to invite questions and feedback.
Gen Z candidates typically are attracted to companies with a strong social media presence. They are more comfortable communicating digitally and may find face-to-face interactions less comfortable than instant messaging, email or texts.
Both generations prioritize job security and tend to seek some flexibility in their work schedules. They also will look for opportunities to add input on process improvements.
KEY STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESSFUL ONBOARDING
It is important to understand the difference between orientation and onboarding. Most companies already have an orientation program, but orientation tends to be a one-time event, typically lasting a few hours or the full first day. Onboarding is an ongoing process that starts on Day 1 and can extend through the employee’s one-year anniversary.
An orientation program can be part of onboarding but does not replace it. Companies should have their own specific, structured onboarding programs and policies in writing to ensure consistency.
To effectively onboard a new employee, consider these four important factors:
- Service. Conveying company culture, values, processes.
- Success. Expectations, goals, what does success look like.
- Social. Building trust with the new hire, establishing connections.
- Safety. Ensuring the risks associated with new hires is minimized, and they feel safe.
CONSTANTLY CONVEY COMPANY CULTURE
Every employee’s first day should include hearing a story that truly conveys the company’s identity, but this is just the first of many opportunities to do so.
For example, if you care about your employees and treat them like family, make that a consistent part of the messaging during safety toolbox talks or during performance assessments. Most importantly, demonstrate it early and often.
Another consistent message is how the company is committed to quality. This is an effective way to get employees invested in what they do by reminding them of the deeper purpose of every policy and procedure.
PROVIDE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
The precast concrete industry is filled with stories about hiring new employees only to have them not show up for Day 2 or, worse yet, leave before their first shift is over. One potential reason is the employee’s expectations were vastly different from reality.
This is why it is crucial to effectively convey early in the recruitment process what the work entails. Don’t assume that new employees know what they will be doing or that they can pick it up easily as they go. Along with the “what,” show them the “why.”
Teach new employees about the industry in general and then about the company’s history in specifics. Develop a video of plant operations and each phase of manufacturing. Show them completed projects so they can link a purpose to the job.
DESIGNATE A PEER MENTOR
Younger candidates, especially Gen Z, desire an opportunity to participate in highly collaborative management/coworker relationships. They look for leaders to establish a strong overall mission and set an example to help them learn and grow.
These mentors do not always have to come from middle management, though. Other, more seasoned employees can fulfill some of these roles.
Consider assigning a current employee as a peer mentor for each new hire. New employees can shadow peer mentors for the first few days to help introduce them to other personnel while guiding them through day-to-day routines, including breaks and lunch. This benefits new employees but also provides a boost of confidence and heightened responsibility to the assigned peer mentors. As peers, the mentors also can provide new hire feedback from a unique perceptive that managers don’t always see.
Many companies have established policies of evaluating employees after 90 days. The next opportunity for providing feedback usually comes after one year on the job.
Be prepared for a change.
Younger generations are used to instant feedback and expect to hear about how they are doing on a frequent basis.
This requires more consistent communication between management and new employees. The communication, however, does not always have to be face-to-face. Providing an occasional text is well-received by these digital professionals. Using gamification strategies where new employees are awarded points for training and performance benchmarks also can be an effective method of providing feedback.
NO BETTER TIME TO START
Developing or upgrading a company-specific onboarding program should be a high priority for every NPCA member facing workforce development challenges.
A consistent and thorough onboarding program is a proven strategy to lower employee attrition while enhancing staff performance and morale. It just takes a commitment from management to develop a plan and stick to it.
Every candidate is different, just as every facility is different. Some strategies will work better than others for your specific facility and scenario, and the lessons you learn can be used to continually strengthen the onboarding experience for the next candidate.
For more information on the NPCA Onboarding Program, contact NPCA Professional Development Coordinator Melissa Newton at [email protected] or (317) 582-2327.
The NPCA Onboarding Program in a Nutshell
Hiring, training and retaining a workforce is a major challenge for every company. That’s why NPCA has developed an Onboarding Program with resources that provide each new hire a head start.
Through a yearly subscription, facilities receive a comprehensive guide for employers that contains details on every phase of onboarding alongside checklists and a handy glossary of industry terms for the new hires. The program also provides access to a series of tailored videos that introduce new hires to the precast industry and train them for a variety of manufacturing roles.
The videos fall into three categories:
- Introductory videos are designed to be viewed by recently hired employees or candidates considering a career in precast. Videos such as “A Day in the Life of a Precaster” and “Introduction to the Precast Industry” provide a general window into what precasters do.
- Development videos assist new employees who have some exposure to their roles and responsibilities and are ready for additional information and guidance on precast manufacturing.
- Role-based videos help new employees who are filling specific manufacturing roles or even not-so-new employees who are changing roles. Videos cover topics such as reinforcement assembly, form release application, finishing and product inspection.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of outreach and technical education.