Friday Focus: Small Manufacturing Leaders Reflect on Filling the Talent Pipeline
November 22, 2013
Faced with aging workers, expanding technologies and limited budgets, small manufacturers need to find creative ways to recruit new staff. Two manufacturers told ThomasNet News Career Journal that they've taken a proactive approach to make the industry a more appealing to millennial-aged job seekers. William Kabazie, president of Alkab Contract Manufacturing, said his challenge is finding new tradesmen who are qualified for intricate jobs. The company sells engineering and manufacturing services and employs 22 people in New Kensington, Pa. "The downside is, as I add additional machine tools I have to add bodies to make those machine tools work," he explained. For fabricating and welding jobs he needs employees who are well-versed a variety of materials and have the flexibility to adapt to changes in technology. "We have historically hired people that already had most of the skill sets that were required," he said. "However, it's easier to [recruit for the engineering department because I can get people out of college, but when you talk about the trades...it's a different demographic." He contends that too few people with solid educational backgrounds are entering the trades like they did years ago. A cultural shift is needed to make the public see manufacturing in a better light, he said. "Every parent, every guidance counselor and every teacher, they're all geared to prep students for college," he said. "As a parent, you want your kids to go to college, and as a public school system, you might be graded on the numbers of people who go off to college and their associated SAT scores. But the system is not geared for putting bright people into the trades to sustain the manufacturing base that's out there." Kabazie is trying to hire large-part CNC machinists and fitter welders. He has turned to nine temp agencies to help canvass the talent pool. But even with the aid of employment agencies, the company still has 4-5 unfilled positions. "I have not had a qualified resume come across my desk in probably about 9-12 months," he said. Taking a Proactive Approach Matt Eggemeyer, CEO of Keats Manufacturing in Wheeling Ill., believes that manufacturers should be taking proactive steps through collaborative measures to recruit new employees. In the last several years he has worked relentlessly to identify and recruit candidates for manufacturing jobs. "I think it's unrealistic to think that the schools or the government should be doing something to develop those individuals for companies like mine," he said. "These people learn the trade by becoming an intern, an apprentice, and eventually a into a journeyman stage. It's a 5- to 10-year process. So I have to prepare, almost 10 years in advance for that individual retiring, and that's tough." Keats produces small metal stampings, wire forms and assemblies for a range of electrical applications. The company employs 109 people in Wheeling and a few are set to retire. Eggemeyer said his recruitment efforts include working with the state of Illinois, which has grant programs that help introduce young people to manufacturing. For additional support, he turns to the Tooling and Manufacturing Association for educational information, marketing and community outreach. Even so, the challenge can be daunting because very few young people view manufacturing as a viable career, he said. Most high school graduates who venture into blue collar fields are often "lost in retail," because they are attracted to large corporations with established brands, he said. But those companies don't offer as much as room for growth as manufacturing, he stressed. "You're going to get a good entry-level starting pay with regular hours, great benefits, all that kind of neat stuff, but there's a lot of room for advancement, and you can end up doubling your pay in a very short time," he said. "You're going to learn skills here that are marketable (here) and for manufacturers in the Chicago area." Kabazie offers a apprenticeship program, graduating one trainee at a time, which he believes is an extremely effective way for a young person to develop skills applicable to manufacturing. "You can come out of high school and go into an apprenticeship program, make money during the four years that you're going to school and working, and then when you get your journeyman's paper, you can make anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 a year depending on the company that you start with," he said. The Trickledown Branding Effect Kabazie and Eggemeyer acknowledged that smaller manufacturers do not have the resources for the type of job-recruiting campaigns conducted by major corporations. However, small manufacturers are indirectly helped by large corporations whose advertising portrays modern manufacturing as an attractive career choice, they said. General Electric ran television commercial during the Superbowl that shed a more positive light on industry, Kabazie noted. Trade associations are also helping the small manufacturer by marketing careers in the industry, Eggemeyer said. Improving the public's perception of modern factory work and educating young people about the opportunities in manufacturing are important facets of job recruitment, the two company executives said. And small manufacturers are willing to train the right job candidates, they added. "I just want someone who is motivated, who wants to be here and wants to learn," Eggemeyer said. "I'll take care of the rest."