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Wanted: Willing and Capable Employees

By AICC Staff

June 1, 2017

width=364Look at you. You are willing and capable and motivated to achieve your company goals. No decision will affect your success in building that company more than whom you invite to work with you toward those goals. However, many of those you’ve considered for your team are either unwilling to do the work, incapable of doing it, or both.

Across America, I hear a story of frustration as the rate of personnel turnover in our industry climbs: “I cannot find people who want to work in any aspect of manufacturing, and when we do bring in someone with potential, they don’t stay.” My response is to inquire about the source of referrals and placements for their production workforce. The common answer is, “We get them from a temp agency.” At this point, I am always reminded of an old joke about a guy looking for his keys under a street lamp. In the very short version he is asked—by a priest or a rabbi, I’m not sure which—where he had last seen his keys. “Over there by my car,” he said, “but the light’s better here.” I guess they hire from the temp agency because it has the appearance of easy effectiveness, but this method alone won’t help you find employees or your keys.

Let’s get our heads around the problem. There are factors that contribute to the difficulty of finding willing and capable employees:

  • Larger manufacturers within the industry can afford to pay more than small independents.
  • Manufacturers, and a growing number of distribution companies, are competing for the same potential workforce. And at first, it seems cooler to work at Amazon than at The Box Factory.
  • For many independents, the company has no real human resource function to search for candidates. In many plants, an accounting clerk who has multiple duties, including payroll and employee benefits, handles HR.
  • A generation of potential employees who expect to do anything but physical labor has arrived in the labor pool.
  • We are too busy to change the way we seek and retain willing and capable workers.

The problem exists for all levels of employment. I focus on the entry-level jobs here because many of the most valued contributors in the industry are promoted from the production floor. An additional reason for this focus is that I have seen the most enviable workforces in the industry built with a long view.

Those with the short view will work with multiple temporary employment agencies, hoping to sort through a large number of people to find a few keepers. Since the need for a worker is reactive, we are willing to settle for someone above room temperature who can run the baler. Those with the long view devote time and resources that they must steal from other worthy tasks, to build the most critical component of future success. The following best practices are a sample of methods I have participated in with valuable results:

  1. Start by meeting with your source agencies, which may include temporary agencies, state employment departments, welfare-to-work programs, veteran outplacement services, tech schools, community colleges, and even probation departments.
  2. Who’s in your pool? Provide your potential sources with a set of clear requirements for the acceptable candidate who would be attractive to your company. You will find some people within these organizations who see the value in honoring your requirements and becoming your reliable source. Your requirements should focus on as many traits you value (e.g., problem-solving ability or initiative) as those you are trying to avoid. What are your requirements?
    1. Do you believe that veterans would be a good group from which to solicit applications?
    2. Will an applicant be disqualified by a felony conviction, or just a violent offense? Whatever the answer, consideration must be given to the risk of a charge of negligent hiring in which you may be considered liable for acts of those employed who have a criminal history.
    3. Will you hire relatives of those already employed? If so, will there be any controls for related people reporting to one another?
    4. Will you hire people qualified only to fill the open position, or will you hire people who will likely be able to move up in the organization? (E.g., an employer decided to set the production employee standard at hiring only people capable of becoming lead machine operators rather than hiring a person capable of fulfilling only a lower-level responsibility.)

Choosing whom you will invite to come aboard your organization is crucial. The cost of undisciplined hiring is realized everywhere, from turnover, to training, to efficiency losses, to lawsuits. The importance of investment in finding and even developing the potential workforce is acknowledged by clearly defining your hiring process and objectives, and then adhering to these objectives without exception. Take the long view and build the company culture you desire.

width=150Scott Ellis, Ed.D., is a partner in P-Squared (P 2) focused on leadership and process improvement. He co-authored AICC’s Welcome on Board and recently released Changed People Change Process: Build a Continuous Improvement Culture Where People Act Like They Own the Place. He can be reached at 425-985-8508 or

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