Strategies for finding a long-term employer-employee fit.

Ask any EMS company what its top challenges are, and labor shortages are now tied with material constraints. The labor market was already in the process of a culture change pre-Covid. More than two years of Covid’s impact on workplaces have made many in the workforce question their priorities in terms of work/life balance. It’s an applicant’s market.

On top of that, the rules of the game have changed dramatically. The younger generation has a different work ethic from previous ones that doesn’t necessarily see acceptance of a job offer as a commitment to actually take the job. Some applicants try companies out for a week and leave. Others apply to multiple companies, accept the first offer, and then renege if a better offer arrives.

On the flip side, employer ads may be vague about work requirements to attract a larger pool of candidates. I recently read through a number of applicant comments about ads for remote work (sometimes in other states) that resulted in interviews for jobs that required time spent in the office. Most of those interviews ended poorly, and applicants discussed their frustration at wasted time for a job interview that didn’t fit their needs.

The employer-employee relationship is an investment on both sides. While applicants can behave badly now due to the number of open jobs, the combination of recession and AI automation will likely kill a lot more jobs in the next few years than most people expect. Employers have long memories about candidates who mistreated them, and when the job market changes, résumés with short job stints may become a disqualifier. On the employer side, vague job postings on issues meaningful to employees attract a pool of bad-fit candidates and increase the possibility that applicants who need any job will accept one until they find the job they really want.

Successful recruitment and retention in the current market can benefit from a marketing approach. Most marketing strategies start by asking questions like these:

  • What attracted your most recent hires?
  • What are their favorite benefits?
  • What keeps younger employees with longer tenures at your company?
  • Are there under-recruited segments of the labor market like college students or older people reentering the workforce who may like the schedule options of shift work?
  • Do similar local manufacturing firms seem to have the same challenges with hiring, and if not, what are they doing differently?
  • Are there opportunities to promote your company at job fairs, schools or workforce recruitment organizations you haven’t accessed?

Two decades of migration to a service economy have taken manufacturing jobs off the radar of many potential applicants. So, another question to consider is whether your target labor market is aware of your company and advantages of manufacturing jobs in terms of comprehensive benefits, more flexible, full-time scheduling options, and internal advancement opportunities. Working with local newspapers, bloggers, and local college/trade school media to publish articles that discuss careers in your organization can help brand your company positively within target labor markets. In short, you need a two-pronged approach that both continually builds awareness of the career opportunities your company represents within the target labor market as a whole, plus specific recruitment advertising for open positions.

Employee referral programs also represent a good recruitment tool. No one knows your company better than your employees. Providing employees with bonuses for referral candidates who stay a set period of time is a great way to recruit candidates who understand what the job entails.

Finding good candidates is only half the challenge. Retention, particularly in a market with labor shortages, may be even more challenging. Gluing employees to your company starts on day one. What does your onboarding program look like? Is it orientation and job training, or are there mentoring elements as well? Employees new to manufacturing will have many questions. Some companies use some form of buddy system to help them feel comfortable in an unfamiliar environment for the first few months. Do new employees understand the long-term career opportunities available to them? Helping them understand the availability of opportunities to learn new skills and get promoted helps with retention. A key goal of the onboarding process is to make employees feel comfortable and aware of the longer-term advancement path available to them.

Tuition reimbursement programs are another potential retention tool. It is a benefit that attracts employees with initiative, so it is important to consider a structure that capitalizes on that. First, there should be a requirement for an employee to stay for a set period of time after completing their education. The employer that paid for my master’s degree had a program that required employees work the same length of time as their educational benefits, following completion of the program, or pay back the tuition. For example, if the degree program took 18 months, the employee was obligated to stay another 18 months or return the reimbursement money.

Second, employees with the initiative to increase their education are more likely to be retained if they have a defined career path. It is important graduates of these programs understand how that added skills base will help them advance within your company.

Finally, work arrangements are another good retention tool. Three-day, 12-hour shifts are gaining in popularity with employees who like four days off. Four 10-hour days are another option for a compressed workweek. Hybrid remote and in-office administrative jobs are attractive, as are entirely remote jobs. There are challenges managing each of these options, but Covid has increased employee desire for more free time. Eliminating the commute or compressing the workweek achieves that goal. Eliminating the commute is also a form of pay raise with current gas prices. Employees with longer commutes have seen the cost of that commute nearly double over the last year.

None of these suggestions is a magic pill to solve labor challenges. Nevertheless, companies that create a well-rounded promotional strategy, combined with benefits appealing to their target workforce, do better than companies that don’t. This is a cyclical problem that will eventually resolve, but until it does, companies need to take a multipronged approach to attracting and retaining good talent. •

Susan Mucha  is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services;

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