A sound recruitment strategy can help small- and mid-sized manufacturers stay competitive in the hunt for talent
Manufacturing companies across the country are searching high and low for trained, experienced workers for drill press, welding, lathe, injection molding, and a myriad of other manufacturing positions. Despite rapidly rising salaries, an estimated 600,000 skilled jobs are unfilled according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The days of placing help-wanted ads, receiving multiple applications, and hiring the best from a slate of qualified candidates are long gone.
What happened? Slowly and gradually over the past 30 years, the number of workers with the required skills for manufacturing jobs has declined substantially. Here are some of the contributing factors:
- Foreign competition, and the shift of manufacturing south of the border or to Asia, resulted in millions of lost jobs. As result, younger workers were forced to look for jobs in other fields.
- The Information Age and rapid growth in technology produced high demand and plentiful jobs for people with information-technology skills.
- High schools and vocational schools shifted curricula away from metalworking, woodworking, and similar “shop” coursework and shifted resources into computer, software, and high-tech education.
- Public perception placed more emphasis on the four-year college degree and its pathway to a high-paying, so-called “white-collar” career. Fueled by more financial-aid money, college application and matriculation rates substantially increased.
These and other factors decimated the demand for training in skilled manufacturing trades among young people. Clearly, we’re paying the price today.
Despite the current situation, there is room for optimism in making the manufacturing trades more attractive. Consider these facts:
- According to government statistics, only about 55% of the people who enter college actually graduate within six years. While the cost of college is clearly an issue, it’s safe to say that college probably isn’t the best post-secondary educational option for a lot of high school graduates.
- Data from various sources indicates that as many as 80% of new college grads are leaving campus without professional jobs using their degree. While most will find jobs, it is estimated that as many as 50% will be underemployed.
- About 70% of new college grads don’t know where their education and skills can be applied in the workforce (i.e., they don’t know what jobs are a fit).
- The average entry-level job for new grads pays around $40,000—far less than what a skilled-trades job might pay for a high school grad at 22 with 3-4 years of experience.
A college education is still a fantastic investment for a lot of young people after high school. However, college is not the best option for everyone, as the above information suggests. While college is not the right answer for all high school graduates, I firmly believe that all of them should have some type of post-secondary education.
Success in any type of recruiting is all about the law of supply and demand. The more qualified candidates you have, the easier it is to fill open positions. With this in mind, industry groups and companies can do more to increase the supply of people with the right skills and education.
Here are five things that manufacturing industries can do now to increase the availability of skilled workers:
- Government, broadcasters, and industry associations could collaborate on advertising and/or public service announcements providing education on jobs and career opportunities available in manufacturing.
- Local chapters of industry groups and member companies could visit high schools and vocational schools to promote careers in their industries.
- Local chapters of industry groups and member companies could offer to provide financial support to fund the development of jobs-training curricula in the manufacturing trades.
- Companies could sponsor internships to support high school and vocational training.
- Industry professionals could support political candidates who support the manufacturing trades and the development of effective educational programs in the trades.
While these initiatives will not provide instantaneous payback, it doesn’t take long for an intern or apprentice to make an impact after receiving a two-year degree from a quality vocational technical college.
Manufacturing jobs are once again in high demand, offering great pay and attractive benefits. With interest in these jobs battered over the years, industry trade groups and member companies have much to offer and be proud of. The key to success moving forward will be to aggressively promote the opportunities available and to invest in high-quality educational programs. Once understood, for many younger job seekers, the manufacturing trades will be their career path of choice.
Since this is the off-highway issue, it seems like a good time to reflect on the advances made in the mobile industry over the last 46 years and two months—the time I spent at Power Systems before retiring in July 2014.
In 1968, the year I began my career, the ORBIT motor [developed by the Char-Lynn Company of USA (now Eaton)] was rated at a maximum output of 2,000 in. lbs. with a flow rate of 15 gpm. Today, ORBIT motors are approaching torque values of 100,000 in. lbs. with a 100-gpm flow rate. What is so interesting is that many of the patents on this technology date back to the 1950s. We could have had many of these unique products sooner if the machining technology would have been in place.
I am consistently amazed at how manufacturers continue to develop unique new products. For example, cartridge valve technology has exploded over the last 20 years. It would be interesting to come up with a complete list of all the variations of valves in the marketplace today. Proportional valves are my favorite. Many assumed they would become popular in the 1980s, but the technology was not in place to drive them and there was too much contamination in the hydraulic systems. If you use proportional valves, you need to seriously consider filtration levels of 15/13/11.
In my early years working in the industry, customers often regarded filtration as an unneeded expense. It took a long time to change the industry’s perception to recognize the filtration levels needed in the mobile hydraulics world. My eyes were opened in the 1980s when a log loader manufacturer in Minnesota went to six-micron beta 200 filtration and cut warranty expenses from $600,000 to $100,000 in one year! When the components did fail, contamination was not the problem. Rather, it was a warranty problem. Today, it is still estimated that 70 to 90% of all failures on hydraulic components are from contamination. We need to eliminate abrasion, erosion, adhesion, corrosion, and fatigue wear found in hydraulic systems.
The marriage of electronics and hydraulics is an exciting union that gained a lot of interest in early 2000. With this marriage, brute force can be achieved and controlled. I believe electronics drive the industry and certainly is here to stay. Become familiar with the terms Hall Effect and linear position sensors, CANopen, J1939, ISOBU, Multiplexing, TFT displays, and Codesys. These are some of the terms electronic wizards are using today. I am quite certain there will be additional terms added to this list in the near future.
Today’s customers are no longer looking for the lowest-priced component. Our customers are more concerned with productivity, reliability, and creative ideas that make their products unique. And to the end users of our products, it’s all about getting the job done faster with more accuracy and no downtime.
In the almost half century I worked in the industry, the most critical and positive change has been the growing relationship between manufacturers and distributors. We have figured out that we need each other! Working together leads to market share gain.
Yes, there have been many other developments and gains in fluid power. I have only highlighted a few of the critical advancements that have contributed to making our industry stronger. It’s a unique field; I am thankful for the opportunity to work my entire career in this fast-growing industry and to work with so many of you in contributing to that growth. There is more to come.
I am sometimes questioned about the IFPS logo on my shirt. Once I was asked if it was a symbol for some type of “secret society.” This gave me a chuckle and the opportunity for a short elevator speech, but it also gave me pause for thought.
I happily explained that the International Fluid Power Society is a non-profit organization that works to promote education, training, and professionalism in fluid power through certification. I also explained that I am a member and chair the committee for membership and chapters.
This prompted a quizzical look from the other person and the question, “Fluid power?” I went on to say “hydraulics and pneumatics,” and while doing so, in the back of my mind I was thinking…maybe we really are a secret society.
When you use the IFPS logos, stickers, lapel pins, lanyards, and other membership emblems, you are inviting questions and creating the possibility of helping someone advance in this industry. It is good to explain that IFPS benefits include discounts for training, certification, test fees, and even discounts for drug prescriptions and rental cars.
It doesn’t hurt to talk about the Fluid Power Journal, professional networking, professional development points, and the free study manuals and web seminars, but of even greater value is explaining how your membership affords you the opportunity to help others.
Maybe the curious person asking these questions is also involved in fluid power, but not certified. You can help them. Perhaps their teenage child is involved in a FIRST robotics program, or perhaps their recent graduate is struggling to find a career path. Volunteering to help a FIRST team or educate the younger graduate about careers in fluid power gives you other opportunities to “pass it forward” and realize great personal rewards.
We are here to help you with these initiatives. The IFPS board meetings are held twice a year, and during these meetings, the Membership and Chapters committee, along with our other committees, work with ideas to help improve the membership experience, create useful tools, recognize our members, and expand our presence. Some of our recent accomplishments include the following creations:
- A discounted membership rate for active military – reduced annual and two-year membership renewal fees. It’s our way of saying “thank you” to those who serve.
- Individual membership brochure – a handy overview of IFPS and membership form that explains what we do. This is a great tool to have. (Please contact IFPS staff and ask for some.)
- Fluid Power Professionals Day – a day to thank you for all you do as a fluid power professional. Lots of details in the Journal or at www.ifps.org.
- Chapter start-up guide – a step-by-step instruction manual for community-service-minded individuals to start up an IFPS chapter. Chapters have additional financial benefits and serve as an outreach to the community through schools, other service organizations, and local industry.
- Chapter operations manual – an organizational aid and guide to running your chapter.
We have more plans for the future, but it is you—the individual IFPS member—who can really make a positive difference in the lives of others.
IFPS membership…what do you make of it?