Integrate Your Workforce
Originally published: 10.01.17 by Robert (Bob) Schroell
To combat the skilled labor shortage, inspire youth to explore science, technology, engineering and math — and a career in the trades.
When the recession hit in late-2007, employment in the construction and manufacturing industries fell drastically, with more than 4 million jobs lost by the end of 2009. As a result of the prolonged recession, many individuals left the trades, found employment elsewhere and have not returned to the industry.
While the industry — including HVACR companies — is thriving a decade later, for those contractors let standing, an even greater challenge weighs heavily on owners: the critical shortage of skilled labor required to replace retiring workers and allow for growth.
The Manufacturing Institute reports that approximately 22 percent of skilled manufacturing workers, or 2.7 million valued employees, are retiring over the next decade. Industry growth means companies will need to add another 700,000 skilled employees or a total of 3.4 million workers over the next 10 years.
Due to a variety of factors, the industry is projected to fall a startling 2 million workers short of its needs.
Debunking Labor Shortage
As contractors seek to recruit, train and retain qualified talent to fill the gaps left by the retiring workforce, they’re challenged with connecting with the Millennial and Z generations. Jobs in the construction industry, while both economically and intellectually rewarding, do not appear to have the same appeal as technology-based jobs have to the Millennial workforce.
Accordingly, while many job vacancies exist, they do not attract the attention of today’s job seekers. One reason is the generational divide in the workforce — Baby Boomers are hard to break from traditional recruitment initiatives, while Millennials rely on social media to obtain information on the employment landscape.
Many Millennials have a misconception that HVACR jobs are associated with long, tedious workdays and monotonous assembly lines. Appropriately, these young job seekers are under the impression that a four-year college degree is required to enter the competitive workforce. In reality, only about a third of jobs in the near future will require four-year degrees or higher.
Research indicates that there are five alternative paths to success that do not require a bachelor’s degree: employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates and associate degrees. Career and technical training is becoming the entry-level requirement for many middle-skilled jobs.
Another common misconception is that technological advances are a threat to filling these jobs. While robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and other advancements are making manufacturing companies less reliant on human workers for certain tasks, they’re also creating new jobs that require specialized skills such as programming, analytics and problem-solving.
These advanced, technical skills will only increase as manufacturers accelerate their efforts to automate and digitize.
Fortunately, the HVACR industry is evolving technology-wise and a lot of electromechanical knowledge is required to support company growth.
Subsequently, more education is required around these advancements leading to more and more technical colleges offering programs targeted to the HVACR industry.
Limitations to Current Recruiting
Many companies are reluctant to invest in their own in-house training programs, which is critical in addressing the skilled labor shortage. They’re fearful that today’s employees are not as loyal to their employers as previous generations and that the money they spend on training will not benefit them.
As a result, many contractors tend to rely more on recruitment than on training and development.
Unfortunately, numbers from high school job fairs are dwindling, which presents limitations to companies in their recruitment initiatives. Today, high school students are groomed to already have a career path in mind.
If companies are relying solely on these job fairs to fill skilled labor positions, they’re too late in capturing the interest of potential future employees. The recruitment cycle needs to change, and that means exposing younger students to technical careers.
An Integrated Workforce
The future of recruiting and retaining talent is the shift to an integrated workforce. Companies need to inspire youth to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and consider careers in technical fields by exposing them to fun learning opportunities at an early age.
Teachers and counselors are not the influencers in this situation; a partnership with community and technical colleges is a good starting point for companies to develop their “pipeline” of interested and qualified job candidates.
Some strategic programs for students as early as the 6th grade do exist. Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, for example, holds Summer Adventure Academies for rising middle school students. These programs encourage students to design, create, think and work through hands-on activities in order to teach them about career paths in technical industries.
More companies are starting to embrace integrated work-based incentives as a way to secure longevity with potential future employees. One important, effective tactic is apprenticeships.
Though it may seem like a business practice that’s played out its time in society, the lasting effects of establishing relationships with young employees and giving them the opportunity to learn as they work are just as valuable today as they were following the Industrial Revolution.
The success of an apprenticeship relies on making proper assessments of a potential employee during the hiring process, and making sure they understand the commitment of time and work ethic they’re making to the company.
In return, companies need to ensure they’re providing their apprentices ample opportunities to learn hands-on in an environment they could see themselves in long-term.
Reliability From Within
Though many companies boast retention numbers, not all have internal programs in place to keep the skilled workers they’ve already acquired. A big setback for fresh employees, especially Millennials, is a stunted opportunity of options within a company.
Skilled workers aren’t looking for more of what they already know. They want opportunities to learn, even if it’s outside of their current niche in the workforce. Providing current employees with programs that help them evolve their technical skills, leadership abilities and communication will allow them to see their own potential within the company.
Internal programs can even keep veteran workers past their initial retirement date by giving them a new purpose and reason to stay. Enhancing ‘soft skills’, such as communication and collaboration, can also give renewed life to a workforce. Training employees in this area gives them a skill set that translates among front-line, supervision and management positions.
Moving forward, manufacturing companies have a large task ahead of them in conquering the shortage in skilled labor. They need to arm themselves with the knowledge of where to invest their time and money, the foundation of which lies in education and reaching potential employers earlier in their lives.
Teaching the incoming workforce about the true benefits and rewards of skilled work within manufacturing can help alleviate the damage done by a stigma that overshadows the industry. One thing that is apparent is the solutions must come from within and rely on reaching out.