Pulling out all the stops

Amid record-low unemployment, manufacturers get creative in pursuit of talent

Posted on May 15, 2018 :: Back Office Operations
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

To see how much the paradigm has shifted when it comes to talent recruitment, you need only look up: specifically, at billboards.

Companies that once used outdoor advertising to sell their products have begun using it as a vehicle to sell themselves to prospective employees.

“With unemployment so low, you have to look at every conceivable, possible way to promote,” says Ann Franz, director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.

The unemployment rate has dipped below 3 percent in many New North counties, and essentially everyone who wants a job can get a job. Manufacturers competing for talent have had to find creative ways to differentiate themselves.

For some companies, that means using a tool that appeals to everyone: money. When EMT International struggled to fill second shift machinist roles, the Hobart company offered a $4,000 bonus, half paid at hiring and half after six months on the job. In addition, it offers a $1.50 shift differential, says Kathy Koehler, the company’s human resources manager.

EMT began offering the bonus in March, and Koehler says it has proved successful, with the company filling several positions. To further entice candidates, EMT offers full tuition reimbursement for both full- and part-time second shift employees going to school for CNC machining.

De Pere-based Robinson Metal recently expanded operations into Manitowoc. The company located its custom enclosures division in the facility, formerly owned by Manitowoc Crane Group. It’s
looking to hire 30 this month for the facility and plans to ramp up to 50 to 60 employees there by the end of the year.

A recent job fair in Manitowoc brought in around 85 applicants. In addition to offering a robust benefits package and competitive salary, Robinson tries to view employees and their needs holistically, says Sam Thomas, operations manager.

“Our main focus is, how do we help the families?” he says.

The company recognizes the need for work-life balance, Thomas says, and offers amenities that aim to make employees’ lives easier. Those include access to a 24-hour workout facility for employees and their families, discount cards to Sam’s Club and Costco and partnering with a car service shop that will come and pick up vehicles.

Honoring work-life balance is also a priority for Winsert Inc. The company’s competitive pay, stability and status as a family-owned, growing business is stressed to prospective employees, says Trisha Lemery, Winsert’s president and CEO. The landscape is challenging, she says.

“The market here is extremely strong not only for just manufacturing jobs, but salaried positions as well,” Lemery says. “We’re competing with a lot of industries in the area.”

Winsert has worked to adjust to millennials’ expectations and has conducted several training sessions on the topic. In response, the company strives to provide flexibility and perks such as tuition reimbursement while also giving back to the community, an important attribute for the socially conscious generation.

Having a company headquartered in Marinette provides challenges as well as benefits, Lemery says. For those worried about feeling isolated in the Northwoods, she stresses Green Bay and Milwaukee are an easy drive. She also points to the region’s outdoor and recreational opportunities and low cost of living.

In its recruiting, Plexus Corp. has begun to reach out to candidates not traditionally targeted, such as those in the retail and service sectors, and promote manufacturing jobs as a higher-tier opportunity, says Jay Stephany, the company’s manager of talent acquisition.

The company recognizes that the talent pool seeks flexibility, Stephany says, and offers solutions to meet that need. It offers part-time work, appealing to working parents and those close to retirement who aren’t quite ready to stop working. Workers can begin their day at 5 a.m. and finish earlier. Some have the option of working four 10-hour shifts versus the traditional work schedule.

Karen McMillan, vice president of human resources for Plexus, says the company is prepared to meet the challenge of low unemployment.

“A competitive market is a good incentive for companies to be sure we’re being the best we can,” she says.

Exploring new avenues
The tight market means companies and organizations have had to look to new sources for potential employees as well.

With existing talent difficult to find, Plymouth-based Sargento is essentially building its own talent pipeline. Louis P. Gentine, CEO of Sargento, says his company in 2016 created a position within its human resources department with the sole function of developing and recruiting prospective employees who are still in high school, a technical school or a university. The position is dedicated to creating partnerships, co-op programs and internships that will engage the future workforce with the company before they have graduated.

“We did these things before, but it was more hodgepodge, and the results were exactly that,” Gentine says. “Now we have a focus on it, and it’s meaningful for both sides and
we get much better results.”

NEWMA is partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce to offer an innovative new event to attract another talent source: veterans.

Talent Reload is a reverse job fair that will be held in the Fox Cities June 28-30. Instead of veterans selling themselves to companies, businesses will promote themselves to the vets, says Derek Jablonicky, veterans employer representative for the Office of Veteran Employment Services and an organizer of the event.

With vet unemployment at an all-time low of 1.3 percent in Wisconsin, companies need to reach that population in new ways. The first-of-its-kind event aims to bring 20 vets from western Wisconsin and the Chicago area to connect with six Fox Cities companies.

Jablonicky says Talent Reload is designed to “roll out the red carpet” and showcase to the visitors, including their spouses and families, all the region has to offer, doubling the event’s potential impact. In addition to meeting employers, participants will learn about area schools, attend a dinner and reception with a color guard and go to a Timber Rattlers game.

To Jablonicky, it’s a group worth targeting. “Veterans bring so much more to the workforce than people who have not been trained in the military do,” he says. Φ