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February 20, 2017 How To

How to: Make manufacturing cool again

Nancy Marshall

The “Five on the Future” Event hosted by Mainebiz recently reaffirmed that manufacturers and other businesses are having a hard time attracting employees. What I used to call “employer branding” is now being called “The war for talent.” Them's fightin' words.

Recruitment strategies must be tied with retention strategies to keep the best employees on the payroll. Today, employees will start shopping for their next job as soon as they feel disenfranchised from their current position.

I have suggestions for what parents and educators need to do from a young age, and what employers need to do once young people graduate from school.

  • Children need to learn to make things as part of their everyday play time, both at home, in school and at daycare. Whether it's a Lego set, an Easy-Bake oven or a Robotics competition, engaging in making things at a young age will plant the seed so they will want to make things (or oversee the making of things) later in life.
  • Engaging students in mentorship relationships with caring adults or older students makes them feel like they matter. Tree Street Youth in Lewiston has a tremendous program for many of the lesser advantaged residents in the inner-city neighborhoods which has resulted in increased high school graduation rates and impressive college acceptances.
  • Parents and adults alike need to accept that college is not for everyone, however. Thornton Academy in Saco has a wonderful partnership with Pratt & Whitney where high school students who choose not to go to college can not only work part-time in the plant, but they can get certified in the most cutting-edge machining techniques, allowing them to go right to work upon graduation earning a good wage with benefits.
  • High schools and employers need to make efforts to create partnerships so students can feel comfortable going into a workplace. And sometimes their parents and even grandparents might want a job, as well. Chuck Lawton, one of Maine's most respected economists, and Jeff Fuhrer the keynote speaker at “Five on the Future,” both echo the importance of creating partnerships between schools and workplaces. It's a win-win-win for the students, the businesses and the communities.
  • Educators should encourage collaborative projects in schools from an early age. Being able to collaborate in small groups will be vital on the job.
  • Modern 'makers' are the manufacturing employees of the future. They take pride in making things. They want to be treated as individuals with their own personal brands and their own unique talents and abilities.
  • Employers need to make concessions to attract these makers. Things like job-sharing, flexible schedules, shorter shifts when needed and on-the-job training, not to mention competitive wages with benefits, are all requirements of attractive jobs.
  • For many workers, being able to see video and photos, and to learn the stories of the people who are already working at a certain company helps them imagine themselves there. All the tools of social media and storytelling on videos should be deployed to show prospective employees what it's like at the plant and who they will be working with, so they can see if they would fit in and feel comfortable there.
  • Employees want to be heard. They want to contribute to the way things are run and the way things are made. They want feedback and encouragement. They also want a career path.
  • An employer brand consists of a unique story with a value proposition to prospective employees. It's worthwhile to brainstorm what your company's unique value proposition is, and how you can best communicate it to the ideal job candidates. Yes, it takes effort, but it's necessary in today's war for talent.

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