Innovation Stage addresses labor shortage

What is needed to attract a younger workforce in manufacturing today?

Kevin Young
Kevin Young

Big Ass Fans surveyed its customers in the industrial segment to learn what the biggest problems facing them were and found that they share the same problems as the company. In particular, how to attract and retain employees.

Kevin Young, Director of Sales at Big Ass Fans, spoke at the Innovation Stage yesterday at PACK EXPO, and shared the top obstacles found by their research. Labor shortage, technology, security, globalization/uncertainty and growth top the list of concerns, but the labor shortage stands out as an immediate concern.

4.5 million manufacturing jobs will open up in the next decade, and 2 million or more will go unfilled. 2.4 million will be open by 2021. “There is significant growth for employment in manufacturing,” said Young, “but there is a significant shortage of employees for those jobs.”

He goes on to say, “What are we doing to attract and retain our employees? The perception of this industry with younger kids is not great. If they were able to walk through this show, they would see the technologies and the really cool things that are going on.” But the negative perception remains, and according to Young, “That is something that the industry needs to work on.”

One way to attract and retain is through on-site benefits. At BAF, Young said, ping-pong and a beer cooler were once considered unique on-site benefits, but to young employees today, perks like those are expected. Today BAF offers catered lunches, an on-site nurse, special events such as company picnics and community events, and Friday donuts.

Other techniques employed at BAF are “Go and See” walks - having top executives walk the plant floor to engage with employees and see what is happening there. Section leaders also handle plant tours, empowering them as experts in their areas.

Ensuring worker safety and transforming the facility so it is attractive to employees are also important, said Young. “When you walk out onto your plant,” he said, “would you want to work there?” The younger generation is not willing to work at facilities that aren’t safe or appealing, he said.

“Be a brand your team can rally behind,” is another tip from Young. What do your employees say about your company when they aren’t at work? Be a company your employees can be proud of and have fun while doing it.

The National Association of Manufacturers reported 92 percent of manufacturers are positive about their company’s outlook through 2019, but 71 percent stated “inability to attract and retain a quality workforce” is their biggest concern. Young said that 1 in 4 manufacturers were forced to turn down a growth opportunity in the 1st quarter alone, due to a shortage of employees.

Technology ties into the labor shortage problem as well. “It’s not just ‘are you investing from a technology standpoint,’ but your employees are going to expect it,” said Young. He said that 50% of the workforce is going to be millennials by 2020, and “in the blink of an eye” Gen Z will be working in our plants as well.

“The millennial generation and Gen Z will not work for companies that don’t have technology,” said Young, since they have grown up with technology being part of their lives and they expect it to be a part of the workplace as well.

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