Hanging on to your skilled workers

September 12, 2006
By: Vicki Bell

With skilled labor becoming scarcer, employers must strengthen their retention efforts. This article discusses the main reasons workers leave jobs and includes comments from metal fabricators about these reasons. It also includes tips for overcoming the reasons and links to resources that can help you develop your retention strategy.

As documented in the article Fabricators in search of skilled labor, 77 percent of respondents to an August 2006 "Fabricating Update" hiring survey are seeking skilled workers and having difficulty finding them. In today's tight labor market, employers can't afford to lose the skilled workers they currently employ and must work hard to retain them.

One survey respondent who works for an automotive parts supplier offered his formula for combating the crisis: 'Train positive people and keep them happy at work." The last half of the formula is perhaps the most difficult and is critical, particularly if you have gone to the expense of training.

Why Workers Leave

According to Best Practices: Employee Retention—A Changing Work Force and Workplaceon www.teconline.com, employees leave jobs for five main reasons:

  1. Poor working conditions
  2. Lack of appreciation
  3. Lack of support
  4. Lack of opportunity for advancement
  5. Inadequate compensation

"Fabricating Update" subscribers addressed all five reasons in their survey responses.

Poor Working Conditions—A subscriber who works for a company that manufacturers farm tillage equipment said, 'Probably the biggest hurdle is that manufacturing, especially in metals, can be a hot, dirty job."

Another subscriber said, "The problem I've found is that not all manufacturing plants are created equal. Some are sweatshops with relics for tools, while others are state-of-the-art."

Lack of Appreciation—One survey respondent believes "big companies have to stop acting like big companies." He said, '"Small companies have found a way to balance their greed factor and their concern for the lives of their people. Their people are a hard-to-replace asset, not a number on a ledger."

A subscriber in the aerospace industry said, "As a manufacturing engineer, it is plain to me that manufacturing has little respect for a highly trained worker."

Lack of Support—Support includes providing the training and tools to do the job. A subscriber in Missouri said metal workers sometimes are required to buy their own tools.

One subscriber said that companies should be training people all the time. "It's good for morale and the bottom line."

Another who works for a major petroleum company addressed the shortage of trained machinists and said, "Companies today are not training personnel like they were 20 or 30 years ago. Then people with promise were brought in and trained. Today companies (there are exceptions) generally want experienced people on day one. This was somewhat effective when there were significant numbers of laid-off personnel or those who took early retirement.

"Everyone in the system wants someone else (i.e., competitors' shops, government, or schools) to foot the bill for training and provide the experience. This part of the [labor] equation cannot be ignored, even if it doesn't fit in some group's political agenda."

The majority of respondents to the hiring survey reported that they presently are training current workers for other tasks (57.5 percent) and training unskilled new hires (56.6 percent).

Lack of Opportunity for Advancement—Most people want to advance in their careers. Commenting on the labor situation, a subscriber said, "Many prospective workers who lack necessary skills do so because they lack motivation to develop those skills. Industry needs to explore better ways to motivate workers. I was a truck mechanic for 35 years and although I graduatedto the highly skilled job assignments, I never graduatedaway from the mundane assignments, which are considered to be entry-level. This fact was a strong disincentive to remain in the field. Workers who have the ability and motivation to become highly skilled want the opportunity to get way beyond entry-level work."

Inadequate Compensation—Perhaps nothing makes a worker feel more unappreciated or unmotivated than inadequate compensation. Most survey respondents who addressed manufacturing compensation felt that skilled workers could make good wages.

A subscriber who works for a company that manufactures fans, blowers, and air movers said, "The semiskilled jobs pay well and the skilled jobs even more. The work loads have been picking up, which means most manufacturers are offering overtime They also are providing better benefits at a reasonable cost."

However, one subscriber who works for a family-owned metal fabrication company that's been in business in Nashville, Tenn., since 1889, said, "In our area, we used to have a problem finding skilled workers. We increased our new-hire compensation and are not having the problem." This company is among the 15.8 percent of survey respondents who reported that they have increased new-hire compensation packages.

Conquering the Reasons

The teconline article advocates implementing strategies in five areas to overcome employees' reasons for leaving:

  1. Environmental strategies create and maintain a workplace that attracts, retains, and nourishes good people.
  2. Relationship strategies focus on how you treat your people and how they treat each other.
  3. Support strategies involve giving people the tools, equipment, and information to get the job done.
  4. Growth strategies deal with personal and professional growth.
  5. Compensation strategies cover the broad spectrum of total compensation, not just base pay and salary.

Top Retaining Tips

The article also offers best-practice tips for retaining workers:

  • Hire right to begin with.
  • Engage in longer orientations with new employees.
  • Live the values.
  • Use creative rewards and recognition.
  • Create annual personal growth plans for each employee.
  • Consider non-compete agreements.
  • Recruiter-proof your company.
  • Make it easy for people to get their jobs done.
  • Do corporate succession planning.
  • Conduct exit interviews with employees who resign.

Recommended Resources

Many books and articles about employee recruitment and retention exist. Some excellent resources are available online.

California offers an Employer Tool Kitthat includes a lengthy section on retaining employees and check lists for recruiting and retaining.

Various resources can be found on about.com's Retention of Employees: Tips and Toolspage.

Finally, employee retention is critical even for those businesses exploring buyout options. Read Ford's recovery plan includes long-term human resource investment in short-term business unitto find out how the automaker is motivating workers in plants destined to be sold.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209