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Workforce Management

Ask the HR Expert Series: Featuring Manufacturing Leader, Jon Thurmond

Leaders in manufacturing operations have faced more compliance concerns and HR challenges this year than ever before. During a recent webinar, we invited our friend and manufacturing industry expert, Jon Thurmond, to answer your questions on talent development, upskilling, recruiting and employee engagement. Check out his responses below.  

Q. There are very little trade education opportunities in our area, and we need a team that possesses a specialized skillset. How can we focus on talent and skill development when resources are not available?

We’re dealing with a tight labor market. It’s so much about relationship building.

Manufacturing and construction are not glamourous or sexy but there are tremendous opportunities and long-term careers. Consider how to get in front of that base audience as early as you can – are there nearby schools you can partner with?

The WIOA Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act funding is federal money that is pushed out through the states that helps people who are looking for work and looking to get upskilled. When I was a part of the Capital Region Workforce Development Board, we were responsible for distributing hundreds of thousands of training dollars to get people upskilled. A lot of that funding is focused on youth at risk or those who have barriers to employment (re-entering after incarceration or military). If you can tell your story, this is a great opportunity.

Q. What are the top 3 things you do to retain employees?

  • Onboarding is critical. People need to understand what they’re doing, how to do it and what the path looks like for them.
  • Sell the idea of team. You’re not just an employee, you’re a teammate. Make sure you’re getting that message across.
  • Make sure you are listening to the people and understanding what makes them want to stay.

Q. How do you motivate and engage employees, especially those front-line workers that stepped up during the worst of the pandemic? Are there creative compensation strategies that have worked for others?

Motivation and engagement are difficult regardless of the time.

  • Constant recognition, acknowledgement. Be genuine. Be serious and be intentional in those conversations when you ask people how they are.
  • Morale-boosters. Consider giving employees PPE with company logos. We sponsor a baseball team and reward top contributors with free tickets.
  • A small thank you can go a long way.
  • Be clear on what it takes to get to that next level.
  • Pay bonuses. Consider offering retention bonuses or hazard pay bonuses. Look at your budget and do what works for you.
  • Loosen time off for sick-time and childcare. Can you give people time off? What additional flexible arrangements can you offer?

Q. How are manufacturers adapting to legalized marijuana as it relates to pre-employment drug tests?

You’ve got to figure out what makes the most sense for you. It’s important to remember that just because people have access to recreational marijuana, that does not mean they can come to work impaired. Make sure you are working with legal counsel and leadership teams.

Make sure your leadership teams know what to look for and what to vocalize. Regardless of how you do pre-employment, make sure that people who are there know what the expectations are.

Q. We’re seeing high turnover within the 17-month window, how can we improve retention?

Seventeen months is impressive. My question would be, why are they leaving? Where are they going? Are they going to competitors? You can’t improve retention until you understand that.

In one of my organizations, we saw people leave after 6 months. We weren’t doing a good job of onboarding. Now we have a roadmap. We have one-hour sessions every week for the first 8 weeks. We help new people understand our benefits, our corporate values, our profit-sharing plan and safety conversations.

If you’re not talking to people after they’ve decided to leave, you won’t be able to understand it.

Q. What is the best way to onboard employees that don’t have access to computers at home or work?

Think through what makes the most sense and figure out how to get the information to them. We have kiosks with Chromebooks because we know we have a base of employees that may not have laptops at home. Many people may just have a phone. Applications should be mobile enabled if they’re not already.

Q. How do you approach Talent Development for Manufacturers (technology, career pathing, development, internships)?

It’s a people puzzle. Everyone has their own wants, desires and interests. How do we identify those? Those who are less experienced are looking for a path. They are asking, what can this organization offer me in terms of a path? If you are looking for those who you can groom into leadership, you can’t land them without a story. With the small talent pool, the more you invest in employee development and show them what you can do for them, the more it’s going to pay off for you.

Q. Have you noticed any silver linings during the pandemic?  

The best in humanity that could be found we’ve seen it this year. HR people have stepped up. A lot of leadership looked to HR for help and to help guide the boat as we pushed through something none of us have ever dealt with.

Sometimes HR people are seen as “the compliance police” but I’ve seen a lot of my peers come up with ideas to change things and continue operations. We’ve also seen that people can work differently and still be successful, and maybe even be more successful.

Q. How can we continue to build a talent pipeline and make it exciting?

How you recruited somebody 20 years ago doesn’t work today. What’s the steak and sizzle?

Running a production line may not be glamourous but there are some amazing things happening. Things have become very advanced and it’s not what it was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. You have to think like they do or better understand how to market it to them. Maybe it’s on TikTok. A guy on Snapchat wanted to be a barber in NYC and sent pictures to barbershops and got three job offers. Someone else chronicled a day in the life of a supervisor to show what it was like. That tells a story. You have to try different things. It’s a people puzzle.

If you’re looking for more discussions on the critical HR topics impacting your business, browse our upcoming webinars! Every week, we sit down with HR and finance experts who guide you through the latest trends and developments affecting your business. Our customers say Paycor webinars are as valuable as in-person conferences.