It’s time to reframe the talent shortage. Throughout the country, companies across industry sectors struggle to find the necessary workforce. Gone are the days of a consistent deep pool of workers to draw from, and it is increasingly unlikely those days will return. A recent study from Deloitte predicted a national shortfall of 2.1 million skilled workers by 2030.
To move forward, manufacturers must accept that they are competing for far fewer workers than in the past and dedicate more time and resources into retaining the talent they already have. In fact, what many companies may consider a talent availability problem, may actually be a talent retention issue in disguise. The most successful of modern manufacturers are not those companies that can build the largest workforces but those that can boast the least turnover.
While there are many roads to improve talent retention, the most effective strategies are underpinned by a few key pillars: belonging, authenticity and compassion.
For James Kolodziej, operations manager at Grand Rapids-based Flexco, employee retention really comes down to the company’s welcoming culture. Whenever a new person is hired, people from all areas of the company introduce themselves and welcome the person to the organization.
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“Pay helps get people in the door,” Kolodziej said. “But really it’s the people who are here that make them stay. When we talk retention, that’s really what it’s all about.”
That sense of welcome is generated through Flexco’s commitment to its core company values, Kolodziej said. Flexco’s values are integrated throughout the organization, from hiring and leadership to day-to-day operations.
“We’ve incorporated our values into all parts of our business,” Kolodziej said. “They’re not just words on the wall.”
The company has gone so far as to imbed their core values into their performance evaluation process. Employees undergo three performance evaluations per year. During the first meeting, employees set expectations related to values and in subsequent review those actions are evaluated to how they fit with Flexco’s values. Likewise, the values are also baked into the company’s disciplinary process. Having the company’s values be at the forefront of the evaluation process can play a key role in helping each employee to take them seriously.
Beyond values, Kolodziej believes Flexco’s philosophy of servant leadership plays a significant role in talent retention. Leaders are expected to support and develop their workers. Employees are invited to join management meetings, observe the process and provide feedback. The company also operates a long-standing online suggestion system for employees where leadership documents the reason behind approving or declining a suggestion, Kolodziej said.
“Servant leadership is a word that gets thrown around a lot,” he said. “But, truely, the management here is fully expected to serve our employees. We’re not an organization that bosses people around.”
Steve Heethuis, training director of Kentwood-based NN Autocam Precision Components Group, believes employee retention hinges heavily on a company’s willingness to embrace and cultivate its employees’ curiosity.
“Allowing curiosity and exploration to be a part of learning, verses trying to always have the right answer is a part of our culture,” Heethuis said. “That curiosity fosters a mentality that if I screw this up, it’s not the end of the world and I can grow from that. We’re not a brash, beat you down type of shop.”
NN has dedicated substantial resources backing its philosophy on fostering curiosity. The contract manufacturer of precision automotive and industrial components offers its workers a pay for skill program where a worker can effectively give themselves a $2.50 an hour raise by taking a series of e-modules. The raise sticks with them through upward or lateral transitions and positively impacts overtime pay and 401k contributions.
Moreover, the company also runs a wildly successful apprenticeship program in partnership with Grand Rapids Community College, where students learn a variety of skills ranging from machining to engineering and mechatronics. NN covers the cost of the schooling up front and students earn 27 credits through the process, about half of an associate’s degree.
“They can take engineering classes and machining classes and then they’re applying that knowledge on the floor,” Heethuis said. “The content they learn in the classroom is related to the content they are seeing in the business. It’s not just theory.”
NN doubles down on playing the long game when it comes to talent. If an employee decides to leave the company, they see it as an opportunity for that individual to go out, gain different perspectives, and potentially bring those perspectives back to NN if they choose to return. Moreover, training young people, even if they leave, helps deepen the manufacturing talent pool in West Michigan, benefiting the economy as a whole, Heethuis said.
“We don’t operate out of a sense of fear or loss,” he said. “We are more interested in the growth opportunities going forward…Our leadership believes that an educated decision maker entering the workforce is far better than just trying to get someone to join our team.”