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How COVID-19 Will Impact Manufacturing Hiring

COVID-19 has caused reverberations in the global economy. The ripples begun with strained trade agre...

Posted by Lisa Farrell, Marketing Manager on May 15, 2020 10:10:16 AM

COVID-19 has caused reverberations in the global economy. The ripples begun with strained trade agreements between the U.S. and China have escalated into waves during the pandemic. Fallout from the quarantine has aggravated gaps in the global supply chain, and manufacturers are gearing up for a significant financial impact on business.

Manufacturing companies will likely look to return their operations to the U.S. as a long-term solution. “More manufacturing will be done in the U.S. than ever before,” says Charlie Wilgus of Lucas Group. The farm-to-table movement, Wilgus says, provides a viable blueprint for manufacturers trying to create domestic supply chains and operations. But relocating the entire manufacturing process to the U.S. will cause significant changes and challenges for recruiters, including creating the talent pipeline they’ll need to fill new positions.

Here are some of the challenges facing manufacturing during COVID-19, and some of the steps recruiters are taking to overcome them.

Supply Bottlenecks Create Short-Term Freezes

Consumer habits have changed during the pandemic, causing some sectors of manufacturing to see a slow down in demand while others saw an increased need for production. In both cases, however, recruiting and hiring have largely been put on hold, Wilgus says, with most manufacturers relying on their existing workforce to fill orders. But an even bigger problem looms over many manufacturers.

“A lot of manufacturing companies have had to shift their focus to supply chains,” Wilgus says. Even companies that have pivoted to manufacturing ventilators and medical equipment have been stymied by part shortages. In many cases supply chains are stretched across the globe, causing many manufacturers to have to pause their operations —and hiring — until those distribution centers come back online.

But just because many manufacturers aren’t actively hiring doesn’t mean that recruiters should stop attracting candidates. Use this as a time to build relationships with your prospects, Wilgus suggests. “Start with empathy,” he says. This is a long-term strategy to build value and attract candidates over time. Ask candidates about the challenges they’re facing now, and pivot your recruiting strategy to meet their needs.

Many of those concerns will center around logistical questions and safety measures, points out Raghav Singh, director of product management at Korn Ferry Recruit. “How are people going to enter the facility? What do restrooms and break rooms look like?” Singh asks. “All of that has to be addressed in great detail before candidates will apply.”

U.S. Centralization Increases Long-Term Job Openings

The long-term solution to supply bottlenecks is the localization of supply chains and operations. And that will increase manufacturers’ long-term job openings. “As that happens,” Singh says, “the competition for workers in manufacturing will only increase.” A thriving recruiting function will be essential to manufacturers’ overall future success.

An important component of a long-term recruiting strategy is employer brand. Manufacturing companies will have to demonstrate that they offer an attractive place to work, which includes dispelling the preconceptions of manufacturing as repetitive, operational or “dirty,” Wilgus points out. “Many still think of manufacturing as it was in the past,” he says, “with low pay and tough conditions.”

As openings for skilled talent increase, virtual reality walk-throughs or videos that show employees at work will help candidates see what manufacturing is really like, Singh says. Show candidates the opportunities manufacturing offers to work with advanced technology, or the chance to innovate and utilize sophisticated STEM skills. “Manufacturing skills will only increase in value,” Singh says.

Competition for Skilled Talent Escalates

As more manufacturers expand domestically, competition for highly skilled talent will increase accordingly. Many manufacturing recruiters were already facing challenges before COVID-19 hit, Singh points out. With a projected increase in demand for talent, recruiters will have to build robust talent pipelines — and prepare to train and reskill new talent. “If highly-specialized talent doesn’t exist, employers have to create it,” Singh says. “There are no short-term answers.”

Recruiters can incentivize new talent to enter the field through home-grown talent pipelines. Singh suggests developing close ties to schools in your area: “Show young children that this is a viable path to work,” he says. These ties can eventually blossom into paid internships.

Recruiters may turn to contractors to fill gaps, too. This minimizes expenses for the manufacturer while giving them the benefits of specialized skills and knowledge, Wilgus says. Another largely untapped source of talent are veterans and retired members of the military. “They are very agile in the workforce,” Wilgus says. “They have great leadership skills and supply chain experience.”

The coronavirus pandemic will affect all supply chains, including talent pipelines. As the manufacturing industry evolves in response to the virus, recruiters will have to find creative ways to source skilled talent.

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