The pandemic created a unique environment for finding talented employees.
Looking back about a year ago, the challenge that kept you awake at night was people. More precisely, where and how to find people to hire – people with talent, a work ethic and interest in a long-term career manufacturing electronics. 2020, of course, has brought a slew of new concerns, and made us adaptable to what is described as the "new normal." But surprise! Right up there with how many face masks, hand sanitizer and Plexiglas partitions are available in the stockroom, staffing remains the major concern for business leaders.
The focus on people certainly has taken some twists and turns through this year. During the first six months, many were focused on how to retain the workforce they had. To be sure, potential health issues, social distancing, work-from-home protocols and other necessary obstacles displaced new talent acquisition, and jolting headlines on unemployment claims, especially in the hospitality and retail sectors, forced business leaders to consider when the next shoe would drop and the order board would dry up. Thankfully – or maybe luckily – most manufacturing, and especially electronics manufacturing, has remained surprisingly “normal,” and customers, employees and suppliers have recalibrated as necessary.
The underlying concerns a year ago are still with us, however. Over the next few years, an unprecedented number of experienced baby boom generation workers will retire. Those workers, for the most part, will walk out the door with a lifetime of industry experience, a work ethic that thrived on challenge and understanding how to work hand-in-hand with people on the shop floor. Talent that invented, refined and innovated – often on the fly – in entrepreneurial and structured corporate environments. The number of workers that will need to be replaced is staggering. More important, the transfer of talent and knowledge that should be taking place – right now – for a smooth transition is extreme and real.
So, as we gain experience dealing with this unusual year and begin to refocus on fundamentals such as where and how to find new talent, we may be able to take advantage of the current environment to actually improve our chances, and do so far more quickly than it might have taken just a year ago.
Managers searching for talent over the past few years often grumble that millennials lack interest in manufacturing jobs. They seem more interested in positions in the service sector. This stream of thought has also encompassed the opinion that the next generation too often lacks the commitment to really learn processes. They seek quick answers via an internet search, rather than doing a deep dive to fully understand all the issues necessary to find a good answer.
In the pandemic environment and upturned economy, however, maybe changes are taking place that could result in some previously unforeseen opportunities.
As some sectors of the economy contract and those displaced realize their jobs may never come back, an opportunity exists to hire dedicated workers looking for long-term security. Yes, people in this situation certainly will require training. But investing in training workers who have demonstrated dedication to their employer and offer the maturity to focus on long-term success, even at the expense of starting over, may be a bargain and well worth the commitment. With retail, travel and hospitality industries feeling the brunt of the unemployment numbers in this skewed economic downturn, those industries may be a great place to look when recruiting people for the years ahead.
Colleges and universities are another area that has been turned upside down. Gone, or significantly altered, are internship opportunities previously available to many students, especially in technical and science majors. For many, taking a job for the summer, or possibly a semester off, may be attractive. Savvy employers could fill short-term needs, while identifying workers for longer-range employment once they complete their degrees. Students and schools may never be more open to hands-on experience, especially at smaller companies.
Recent college graduates offer another hiring opportunity. This year has not offered a great economy to enter the workforce. Many companies have reduced or eliminated hiring. Many recent graduates have rethought what they want to do, with an emphasis to stay closer to home and consider safer careers for the long-term. This makes a career in manufacturing far more attractive for recent graduates than in past years. Equally, for businesses, especially smaller ones, the current environment is far easier in which to compete with the big players for interested and available college graduates.
Change can take place on more than one side of an equation. For almost all managers, this past year has forced unpredictable and constant change and has honed our ability to adapt. It has opened our eyes to look at the same situation in a new way. Everyone can be flexible. A hiring opportunity exists because of the pandemic economy, displaced employees seeking security, and hiring managers being a tad more flexible than in the past. It’s a winning combination for hiring talented employees.