You might be surprised to learn that the demand for blue-collar workers is increasing dramatically. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts faster-than-average growth rates until 2026 for jobs such as ironworkers (13%), pipefitters (16%) and machinery operators (26%).
And yet, despite these numbers, our society continues to place great emphasis on white-collar career advancement in all stages of skills development – from early education to on-the-job company training.
This isn’t boding well for those looking to hire skilled laborers. The rise in blue-collar work opportunities, coupled with a decrease in importance placed on training for these types of jobs, means that key industries are facing a detrimental war on talent and major skills shortage.
We’re now at a point where we need to ask ourselves: what’s becoming of the valuable skill sets that keep our blue-collar industries afloat, and how can we close that skills gap?
Let’s start with the good news: Millennial attitudes are shifting. Despite having been taught in recent decades that 4-year degrees are the “right” path to take, they are beginning to blaze their own trails. Many are realizing the immediate benefit of working in the trades, especially in light of rising college tuition costs.
Blue-collar industries must understand their unique advantage for hiring in today’s climate. Factors such as better pay, on-site training and apprenticeships instantly set blue-collar jobs apart from the instability and extreme competition of the white-collar job market. In addition, the tech-driven automation that’s driving many industrial sectors today serves not as a detriment to human labor, but as an aid. Millennials who have grown up surrounded by connected and data-driven tools are primed to embrace the technicality of today’s labor jobs.
Imagine this scenario: A high school student is nearly ready to graduate. She is presented with an apprenticeship opportunity that, when completed successfully, could lead her to a high-paying factory job with plenty of autonomy and responsibility. She feels both empowered, secure and excited about her career advancement.
Using a situation like this as a guide, companies can work toward attracting and molding young, valuable workers.
If you’re currently employing blue-collar workers, you should carefully plan how you are attracting and retaining this talent.
Posting a job ad in hopes that the perfect candidate will apply is no longer enough. With the skills gap widening, you must be proactive in creating HR strategies that will satisfy your company needs in the long term. This means evaluating your current skills needs, setting up mechanisms to fill the gaps and improving the processes that keep employees happy and loyal.
Here are four general guidelines to help you hire and retain a skilled workforce.
Words and language have an incredible impact not only on the way people perceive your company, but also on how they act (or react). Make sure you set the standard for your communication early on, beginning with your job ad. Be concise and confident when explaining the skills required and the benefits you will offer.
It’s also important to communicate clear expectations for your new hire during and after the onboarding process. Will there be possible overtime, and how far in advance will you provide notification? How flexible is the schedule, and who should team members report to? What channels will you use to communicate?
Because communication goes both ways, your employees should always feel like they can express what’s on their mind. Encourage feedback and constructive criticism while scheduling periodic performance evaluations.
Offer training opportunities.
Let’s go back to the previous example of the high school graduate. By presenting this student with a training program up front, you automatically portray your company as one that cares about its employees’ long term success. This helps you in return, not only by filling talent gaps, but also by increasing employee retention. Training programs and apprenticeships help develop strong, trusting relationships and pathways for vertical or horizontal growth.
Once you have training at the forefront of your HR strategy, the benefits trickle down in other ways. Instead of searching for the “purple squirrel” – that mythical candidate with the perfect qualifications and skills – you can list realistic job advertisements that bring high quality candidates in numbers. You no longer need to search for the candidate with the know-how to operate a specific model of machinery, but rather one who demonstrates outstanding problem-solving skills, communication abilities and initiative.
Empower and engage employees.
A company’s HR strategy is often framed in “getting” terms instead of “giving” terms. Nevertheless, you should always ensure you are giving your potential hires and current employees something greater than just a salary and a to-do list.
You can achieve this by presenting them with a mission, community and sense of empowerment. Brainstorm some game-changer engagement strategies that are unique to your organization. This might mean setting up employee outings, reinforcing your company’s vision through motivational emails or giving a lower-ranking employee the opportunity to lead a team.
Deliver both positive feedback and tangible rewards.
Recognition is typically an underutilized morale-booster in the workplace. By expressing satisfaction with your employees on a regular basis – at the company, team and individual levels – you make their work more rewarding.
Positive feedback doesn’t have to come in a grandiose package, although it’s also a good idea to implement tangible rewards. Feedback can also mean celebrating the small wins throughout the day. The feeling of a job well done often carries into all aspects of an employee’s life, making a difference well beyond their work.
Improve your strategies now, benefit for years to come.
With a little careful planning, you can make major improvements in both hiring and employee retention during these shifting times. A shortage of blue-collar workers doesn’t necessarily mean you have to suffer. Strive for the right balance of communication, training, empowerment and rewards mechanisms in your recruitment strategy, and watch your employee retention skyrocket.
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