Real-world Strategies for Building a Manufacturing Talent Pipeline

Young girl examining robotics toy

Can you imagine going to a high school with an active airplane hangar?

My 17-year-old nephew lives just outside of Denver and has the opportunity to attend the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, a stand-alone college and career-preparedness facility for students in his community. The curriculum is rooted in practical skills and offers trade certifications ranging from Advanced Manufacturing (fabrication, production, machining) to Infrastructure Engineering (building trades), to Transportation (auto and aviation). They even have an active airplane hangar right on campus – how cool is that? 

Hunter will graduate with a certification from NIMS (National Institute of Metalworking Skills) and real-life work experience which makes him marketable to both higher education institutions and employers seeking skilled talent. I’m so excited for my nephew and his future prospects.

This got me thinking about the manufacturers I work with. What are their talent acquisition and talent management strategies? Here’s what I learned from three experienced human resources management professionals:

1.    Rosboro Company LLC is North America’s largest producer of glulam beams as well as other lumber products with a mission of “Building Better” which includes honoring and valuing their workforce. Dayna Erner, Human Resources Specialist, shared their approach:

  • As rural producer, Rosboro puts a lot of emphasis on local school and junior college engagements in an effort to change the perceptions about manufacturing. They typically host field trips and plant tours where students can see the automation and equipment. They also partner with logging conferences to facilitate youth education programs.
  • Once a production worker is brought into the organization, Rosboro extends invitations for employees to join an apprentice program for maintenance, electrical work, and saw filing (a highly-skilled job). These cross training and career development opportunities helps to improve retention while filling critical positions.

2.    Sub-Zero Group manufactures best-in-class appliance brands Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove. Ross Hellenbrand, Talent Manager, explained that in order to attract talent to lead their innovation, design, and production in Madison, WI and Goodyear, AZ, they leverage several strategies:

  • Rotational Program – offers three 6-month rotations based on education and professional interest. Participants are assigned a mentor and can explore opportunities in design, manufacturing, manufacturing engineering, sales & marketing, supply chain, test, quality and reliability.
  • Co-op – focused on professional roles, the Co-operative Education Program is a 9-month hands-on structure that offers more experience than would typically be gained in an internship.
  • Fabrication Blue-Print Training – a program for individuals who have the mechanical aptitude, but may not have the exact experience Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove is looking for. New hires come into the program and are educated and trained on blue-prints. At the end of the course a test is administered and a pass moves them into a production role. The program has a 99% pass rate and 300-400 employees have been hired through this program. 
  • Most recently, Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove partnered with a technical college to develop a two semester curriculum for the role of manufacturing technician. Those who complete the program are more qualified for a role as a technician which creates a career advancement path for production employees.

3.    Solvay is a science company whose innovative solutions contribute to safer, cleaner, and more sustainable products found in homes, food and consumer goods, planes, cars, batteries, smart devices, health care applications, water and air purification systems. Margie Consiglio, HR Global Business Partner, Novecare GBU, offered this insight: 

  • Foundation for the Future (FFF) is a structured job rotation program that provides new engineers with 18-month cycles and experience in three broad areas. This program was initially developed in an effort to set new engineers up for success and remove siloes between business units. Just in the past six months, Solvay was able to fill five superintendent positions with young engineers whose experience in the FFF program established them as candidates for these leadership roles. Early on, the program resulted in 3-6 hires; now with effective management and continued evolution, 9-10 engineers are onboarded each year.
  • Solvay’s Chemistry Connection, an award-winning science education program, is designed to drive interest in the field of chemistry through exposure and experience. More than 850,000 students nationwide have participated in Solvay’s Chemistry Connection since the program was launched in 1989.
  • Locally, plants and production facilities recruit at local tech schools, they have temp-to-perm positions, offer opportunities for operators to move from plant to plant and also participate in career fairs for Veterans.

Why does being deliberate in having a talent acquisition strategy even matter?

According to the 2019 2nd Quarter Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, 68.8% of respondents cite inability to find skilled workers as a top challenge. Over the next decade, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2.4 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap (NAM). 
By developing educational and awareness programs focused on the youngest generation entering the workforce, manufacturers can create a talent pipeline which provides flexibility to adjust for labor needs. As we’ve learned, another viable talent management strategy is to extend the capabilities of the existing workforce through mentoring and apprenticeship programs to close the skills gap, which creates a better employee experience and ultimately drives loyalty and increases retention.