Midsize business

A personal and productive approach to manufacturing recruiting and hiring

Human resources personnel in manufacturing businesses are facing some unique challenges.

It used to be that assembly line workers performed repetitive tasks on the shop floor, and if something went wrong, the system was shut down until a fix could be implemented. This was when most factory labor was categorized as unskilled, but times and technology have changed due to automation.

Out on the floor, 3D printers and artificially intelligent machines require a new breed of manufacturing employee who possesses programming and critical thinking skills. In recruiting departments, predictive analytics have become a popular way to attract employees who have the skill sets to do the job. On top of it all, demand for these positions will soon exceed supply.

What’s the answer for hiring managers and recruiters when sourcing, signing and retaining a new class of manufacturing candidates?

Naturally, there’s some science involved in high-volume recruiting approaches, but HR strategists should also take care not to remove intuition entirely from the mix.

Filling high-level roles in high places

IBM’s AgileTA system allows company-wide stakeholder views of applicant tracking systems (ATS) in real time so that everyone involved in hiring has great visibility. Regular meetings between scrum teams give members a chance to assess what’s working in the hiring process and what needs improvement—and adjustments to time-to-hire metrics are made as necessary.

Small and medium-sized businesses can glean some valuable lessons from their larger counterparts. Namely, an approach that fuses innovation with instinct helps any company locate, recruit and hire the talent needed to make their business more efficient and profitable.

A prudent approach to recruiting and hiring for small manufacturers must be both proactive and reactive. As your needs evolve and positions remain unfilled, meeting frequently—perhaps twice monthly—to discuss candidates and their status is a must. Allowing too much time between first and second interviews, for instance, could give a managerial prospect the feeling that they are just not that important to your organization, and a promising prospect is lost.

Regularly scheduled meetings and preconfigured interview tracks help lay a structured foundation for successful recruiting efforts. Along with the planned approach, don’t overlook the fact that things won’t always work according to plan.

When candidates have questions, concerns, and increased salary or benefit demands, owners must take care to keep lines of communication open and delegate some of the decision-making processes to their managers. To a degree, you can expect the unexpected but allowing your team to make their own hiring calls on the fly helps allocate your time more wisely. Adopting agility at your own scale builds trust within the organization and secures top talent outside the factory walls.

Will they stay or will they go?

Replacing managers and key employees can be an expensive pursuit. According to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress, the cost to replace a manager can average 20 percent of their annual salary and 16 percent of an entry-level employee’s annual wages. Thus, it’s advisable to get as many of those impact positions filled properly the first time around.

Credit Suisse developed an algorithm that helped the company determine when employees would quit their posts. Using data points such as job location, personality traits, and team size, the bank saved more than $75 million over a three-year stretch between 2012 and 2015 by reducing turnover by just one percent. The algorithm led the financial services giant to target about 300 executives for promotions—and prevent them from marching off to the competition.

Big, blue-chip companies have the resources to adopt cutting-edge technologies when locating top prospects and keeping them in the fold. But small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses won’t develop complex computer programs to predict when employees might move on. What can smaller manufacturing businesses do to prevent bad hires from hacking away at the bottom line?

Owners, managers, and HR personnel should be mindful of the factors that cause employees to stay or go. Obviously, salary and wages are an important piece of the puzzle but you must also look at variables such as how long an employee has worked for you, where they live in relation to your shop, and whether their feedback conveys positive or negative undertones as you read annual performance reviews.

You may expect an exit from employees who have worked less than a year and whose comments and suggestions clearly come off as unfavorable. Scheduling one-on-one chats with these individuals could help retain their services since it shows their opinions— despite being somewhat unflattering— haven’t been disregarded.

Blending technology and instinct

Technology is certainly one way to help HR staffers do their jobs. A recruiter’s routine tasks—mounting email campaigns and parsing resumes, for example—can be put on autopilot so that relationships get built, and a promising candidate doesn’t wriggle away to a company across town. While data science helps the cause, small businesses would be remiss to remove the personal touch from what is inarguably a people game.

As your business grows and complexity increases, using both software and people skills in recruiting becomes paramount. You can cut costs and free up time for your recruiting team by using an Applicant Tracking System and online personality tests to assess who should move on to the next round of interviews. But, consider that gut instinct can’t get completely tossed from the equation—despite what you may have heard about unconscious bias in the hiring process.

Relieving HR personnel from number crunching is a good first step in getting them back to being people persons. Automating non-hiring tasks such as payroll and tax filing frees up time to communicate with candidates, and ensure that new hires don’t get sucked into a black hole.

Personalize the onboarding process

After a hire is made, rather than using email, phone contact with new management hires is crucial to forging a solid relationship.

At a minimum, checking in regularly with a future employee sends a strong signal that their arrival is widely anticipated. Prior to the first day on the job, many managers schedule a dinner with the employee and family members, where applicable. Other entrepreneurs may send tickets to a sporting event or branded promotional materials such as portfolios, golf balls, clothing, etc.

After a new hire’s first day on the job, onboarding doesn’t end. The focus simply shifts to engagement.

Eyeglass manufacturer Warby Parker uses a software tool called Lunch Roulette, which randomly creates two groups of four people from different departments. Those folks then dine together at the company’s expense, and the ideal outcome results in stronger bonds and tighter working relationships. Implementing the same team-building strategy in a small manufacturing business would be neither costly nor complex.

Personality screenings and technical assessments are great tools to narrow down candidates from a deep pool to an A-list. But creating a meaningful, person-to-person candidate experience helps to engage new hires before they even set foot in your shop. And those first impressions spread goodwill, and maybe get a person to think how nice it would be to unpack their bags and stay awhile.

Final thoughts

Some industry observers agree that both technology and its users have their place in human resources. Andrew Spence, HR transformation director at Glass Bead Consulting, said this: “As we design the employee experience, it’s so important to decide when an activity should be performed by a lovely, warm human being, or when it is better to automate it. Get this wrong and the impact on retention and productivity is massive.”

Concoct the perfect blend by leaving the math to the machines and the fellowships to the flesh and blood. Hiring, onboarding and training the best possible employees depends not only on the results of personality tests and skills assessments but also the keen insights of your HR personnel.


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