4 Ideas You Can Use Right Now To Attract and Retain Talent

Guest Blog Post:  It’s always a pleasure to share my blog with talented professionals. James Ricci is the CTO with Harbour Results, Inc., a manufacturing consulting firm.  He has a unique perspective on Talent Attraction and shares his thoughts with us today. I think this post is particularly timely and interesting especially based on the results of my recent Confidence and Clarity Survey.  One of the key findings in the Survey is that business are desperate to attract and retain talent.  Jim’s post gives some great insight on what businesses can do to address this problem.

Current HR Challenges Facing Employers

One of the top challenges the manufacturing industry faces today and will continue to face in the future is a shortage of skilled workers. A recent study by Building America’s Tomorrow states that there are 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and within 10 years that number is expected to grow to more than 2,000,000.

This is a real issue impacting the industry and is being driven by two primary factors. First, much of today’s manufacturing workforce is made up of baby boomers who have reached or are reaching retirement age. This, combined with the negative image of manufacturing, is driving younger generations to look for jobs in other industries – primarily service.

To overcome these barriers, the industry needs to focus its efforts talent acquisition and retention. For this blog, I’ll focus on talent acquisition only. In either case though there is no silver bullet. Companies are going to have to invest the time and resources to make improvements and build the workforce needed to be competitive.

Adopt Talent Acquisition Best Practices

Talent acquisition includes educating, attracting and hiring young people with the aptitude to work in the manufacturing industry. Contrary to popular beliefs, there are young people available today who would excel in manufacturing.

Only 32 percent of both men and women in the U.S. received a college degree in 2015. Nationally, on average, public universities experience graduation rates of 59 percent. This means 41 percent of those who enter college drop out for some reason or another. This is a very large pool of potential talent. So, what are these young people who are not earning a 4-year degree doing to earn a salary? How do companies attract these potential employees? There are three key steps – Messaging, Awareness and Always Be Recruiting.

Change Your Messaging To Attract Young People

Historically manufacturing has a blue-collar, hands-on, male-only reputation. Although some of this is still true, the industry is now much more sophisticated with automation and other technology, requiring a more diverse set of skills. The industry needs to rework its messages to paint a more realistic picture of a career in manufacturing that resonates with young people. New messaging should include highlights such as:

  1. The salary opportunity for many positions rivals those that require a 4-year degree and, in many cases, are much more lucrative than those in the service industry.
  2. Training and apprentice programs are available and typically company sponsored and once completed participants are guaranteed a position.
  3. Growth opportunities in the short- and long-term as leadership in shops is made up of people who started at an entry-level and worked their way up.
  4. The industry needs people who are good at problem-solving and interested in being a part of an industry that “makes” something.
  5. The industry is on the leading edge of technology and innovation. Part making is a science and utilizes tools such as computer simulation, CAD design and CAM programming on sophisticated multi-axis CNC machines or 3D/additive manufacturing machines to deliver high quality products to customers.
  6. The industry is evolving with the implementation of Industry 4.0, requiring new skills related to Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and the use of Cloud Computing.
Use Social Media, Community Outreach, and Other Tools To Increase Awareness Of Job Opportunities

Once a business has new messaging, it’s important they include them in their marketing materials, including tools that resonate with younger generations – video, social media and employee story telling.

Additionally, companies need to take the new messages directly to the communities in which facilities are located to help educate and increase awareness of the opportunities within manufacturing. Businesses must educate both potential employees and the people who influence them, including high school students, parents, coaches, high school and vocational school counselors and mentors.

Manufacturers need to open their doors and invite people into their facilities to show them firsthand what manufacturing means and the modern technology and processes utilized within the industry.

Finally, shops should be leveraging their industry associations to extend reach and influence local and state governments to support initiatives to eliminate the skilled-trade gap.

Re-Think Your Help Wanted Ad and How You Recruit

It is important to conduct recruiting efforts all year long. Gone are the days where you only look for talent when there is an open position. To find the right people recruiting activities must be ongoing and a part of a company’s business strategy.

Today, the manufacturing industry accounts for approximately 9% of total U.S. employment (slightly higher in the state of Michigan). Job requirements should de-emphasize very specific hard skills (e.g. “x” years’ experience for an industry specific acronym, software or equipment). Instead emphasize broader competency skills relevant to a wider pool (e.g. “x” years’ experience using precise and/or automated equipment). Once a job posting lists specific manufacturing requirements, the candidate pool shrinks dramatically, and potentially very good workers won’t even apply. For example, think of the technicians working in hospitals operating expensive and highly technical lab and test equipment with stringent quality requirements (all doing it on various shift schedules). These are exactly the kind of workers that the manufacturing industry could use but the wrong job posting will exclude these potential employees for even applying.

Finally, manufacturers should consider having dedicated resources for recruiting and onboarding. In fact, those that are seeing the best results have an individual dedicated to recruiting. It is their job to build the messages and educate the community on the opportunities. They spend time with the different target audiences where they live and play and share information on the benefits of a career in manufacturing.

The skilled trade gap is real and is impacting manufacturing. Companies that are waiting for someone else to solve this challenge for them are not going to be successful. It is time for manufacturing leadership to proactively address the issue and develop a strategy, which should include securing resources for talent management and to build your future workforce.


James Ricci is the Chief Technology Officer at Harbour Results, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in engineering, quality and supply chain for the manufacturing industry including process improvement initiatives, developing and executing operational turnarounds, developing manufacturing strategies, performing competitive benchmarking and due diligence.

Ricci began his career at Honda of America Mfg., in engineering, manufacturing and new program launch. Ricci has worked for other notable organizations including KPMG LLP and Harbour Consulting where he was responsible for directing and executing projects to improve operating performance, including lean manufacturing implementation, quality improvement and operational assistance in restructuring and manufacturing consolidation.

In his current role as CTO, Ricci works with manufacturing organizations to improve their global competitiveness, which includes transitioning to a data driven organization and implementing Industry 4.0.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Engineering Management from the University of Michigan. He also is a Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP).