3 Misconceptions to Tackle to Close the Skills Gap
Closing the skills gap is about recruiting new talent, and more of it. And that requires tackling a few misconceptions about the manufacturing industry. Here are a few we’ve encountered and what we’re doing about them.
In honor of Manufacturing Day, #MFGDay2018, we wanted to review a topic close to every single American manufacturer – the workforce shortage. A challenge shared across the country, Westminster Tool has also been impacted by the struggle to find skilled workers. In spite of these challenges, our commitment to overcoming the workforce gap led to a long journey from facing a shortage to a surplus of workers.
Five years ago, we realized that if we wanted to sustain our business in the coming years, we were going to have to find a way to fill the positions continuously becoming available as our workforce retired. We as a company made numerous drastic adjustments to our culture, outreach and training initiatives to support this new workplace model.
In changing the way our business not only operates but attracts new talent, we encountered several misconceptions that have limited us in the past. By tackling these “Manufacturing Myths,” other manufacturers can also take a step toward attracting more people pursuing a career in the industry.
You only need to go after high schoolers.
Don’t limit yourself to targeting one age group. Start young and don’t let up.
Manufacturers have traditionally centered their training and recruitment energy on high school students, with programs such as apprenticeships and trade schools. While this is a great place to start, we have found it is not enough.
In working with local schools in our community, we found that by 8th grade many students have already determined what high school they are going to attend. This means a portion of them have already decided whether or not to attend a trade school. By the time they reach high school, you’ve already missed a chance to convince thousands of students to pursue a technical career path.
That being said, most 13-year-olds are not making these decisions independently. Many of the career path choices of high school students and younger are influenced by teachers, guidance counselors, mentors and of course parents.
For these reasons, it’s critical to start sharing the benefits and opportunities available at your company at an earlier age, both with the students and their mentors.
Our most recent initiative was with a local elementary school. That’s right; we are investing in a K-3 school to help raise awareness about manufacturing. How? By partnering with a local elementary school to provide a Makerspace Program. This program enables students to develop creative problem-solving skills, in a hands-on way that mirrors the kinds of challenges manufacturers encounter every day. It encourages them to solve problems outside of the box all while having fun doing it. And, most importantly, this is their first introduction to manufacturing opportunities and the kind of skills required.
By working endlessly to engage and educate parents and teachers, Westminster Tool was able to build stronger relationships with the local school systems. This allowed us to connect directly with students not only with an interest in the manufacturing industry, but those with the potential to shine at our company.
We don’t need to hire for diversity.
It’s time to diversify. Not only is diversity good for business, it opens you up to a largely untapped pool of skilled workers.
Another misconception often associated with the manufacturing industry is a lack of diversity. This still holds some statistical truth, but at Westminster Tool we’ve seen incredible opportunity in making it our priority to reach a more diverse audience of potential employees.
Not only is diversity better for the workplace as a whole, but appealing to diverse groups addresses the workforce shortage head-on. By attracting a wider group of individuals, and investing in those people, you are serving as a model to encourage others to join.
On several occasions, we’ve been proud to see young women touring our facility and connecting with the women on our shop floor who serve as a great example of the opportunities manufacturing has to offer. As more women are represented in our companies, the greater the opportunity we have to attract more women to the industry in years to come.
A workforce diverse in age, gender, race and background is also diverse in opinion and perspective, and that can be a huge advantage to companies that thrive on ideas and innovation. This directly drives creativity and at Westminster Tool, has given us a competitive edge.
You don’t need to share what you do.
Most of these misconceptions come from people who don’t understand what we do. Open your doors, and often.
One of the most common myths about manufacturing is that it is a dark and dirty industry. It’s one we’ve been battling for years. And those of us in the industry know this is far from the truth. However, the majority of those who believe this may have never stepped into a modern manufacturing facility before. For many of them, the images of old shops still ring true.
One of the best ways to overcome this is to open your doors—any and every chance you get. Some of the ways we get people through ours are:
- High school tours
- Job Shadows
- Career Days
- Open Houses
These events not only help to improve the reputation of manufacturing, they also help us develop relationships with the parents and teachers we mentioned above. We all have something in our shops worth bragging about, and this gives them the chance to see innovative technology, and the highly skilled people who operate it, up close.
Along the way, we found that these changes are only as effective and sustainable as the people willing to support them. So it’s been part of our mission to make sure that we battle these misconceptions from the inside out, starting with our own workforce.
Closing the skills gap is about much more than changing misconceptions about manufacturing. By strengthening our company culture, and sharing that with as many people as possible, we’ve seen drastic improvements in our workforce recruitment success.