By Ashley Bray
We’ve covered the manufacturing jobs crisis and the lack of younger workers in the sign industry a lot lately through webinars and articles, and it’s a topic you’re probably also experiencing first-hand.
The numbers have been bleak, with Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute’s recent report, “Creating pathways for tomorrow’s workforce today: Beyond reskilling in manufacturing,” citing that the U.S. manufacturing skills gap could leave as many as 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030, and it could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion.
The study also points out the top reasons manufacturing positions tend to go unfilled, with new entrants having different expectations for jobs and careers topping the list (38%), followed by lack of attraction or interest in the industry (36%), and retirement of baby boomers (34%).
So what can your sign shop do? Plenty, as it turns out.
Two Hiring Issues to Tackle
Doug Meyer-Cuno, ForbesBooks author of The Recipe For Empowered Leadership: 25 Ingredients For Creating Value & Empowering Others, says the first step is in recognizing the situation as a two-pronged problem.
The first issue is that your shop isn’t just competing for workers within the sign industry—it’s competing with all industries as a whole. “The industry in and of itself is not something we classify as a sexy market. The reason why I say that is when you’re young, you want to go work for a cool company, whether it’s Google, Facebook, Tesla, the list goes on and on,” says Meyer-Cuno. “We have to first understand in the macro aspect, we’re competing against companies like that and not just our own industry. The first pivot that companies need to make is recognizing they’re not just competing with jobs within their own industry.”
The second issue relates to actually finding skilled labor to fill open positions.
Meyer-Cuno says the key to solving both of these issues is to target potential hires before they enter the workforce (or college), and to do this, sign companies should be reaching out to recent or soon-to-be high school graduates. “Based on today’s environment, it’s very important that industries like the sign industry target tradespeople, or people who are waffling about whether they should go to a four-year school or a technical school,” he says, noting that sign shops should target large high schools with information about the industry and their company. “Tell them why it’s cool to work in the industry and what the industry has to offer.”
Aside from high schools, technical schools and technical community college programs also offer the opportunity to find skilled workers.
Meyer-Cuno says efforts like Sign Manufacturing Day are great, but that only focusing on the issue one day a year is not enough. “Again, you’re not competing against just your industry. You’re competing against everybody else,” he says. “The industry in and of itself has to set up programs that will help their industry continue to grow and prosper.”
He suggests that if sign companies have the means to do so (financial resources, employee talent, etc.), they should partner with a technical school and teach a hands-on trade or skill that applies to the sign industry. If a sign company doesn’t have the bandwidth to do this on their own, they should consider partnering with a state or national association to create such a program.
Retaining Top Talent
Once you’ve hired the talent, Meyer-Cuno says a big part of keeping it is reexamining your management style. “Without a doubt we have to change our management styles,” he says. “I highly suggest that these companies understand that the way they managed 20 years ago or even 10 years ago is not sustainable for the future.”
Meyer-Cuno uses the example of the typical workday hours of 9-5. Is this something leadership is willing to fight for? Is creating flexibility in the work schedule a way to keep employees happier and more productive?
There are many examples of changes to be made aside from schedules, but Meyer-Cuno says for this generation of the workforce—and millennials especially—it all comes down to the experience a company is providing to its employees. And while pay may be the initial attractor, it has to go beyond that, as pay is only a short-term attraction. “The long-term situation is quality of life for every employee,” he says. “And that has many, many dimensions.”
Meyer-Cuno says to pay attention to an employee’s relationship with their boss as more employees leave because of their boss rather than the company as a whole. Other things to consider include length of commute, flexible schedules, and creating a welcoming environment. “We have to create an environment of camaraderie, of collaboration, and of communication within the organization that makes that employee feel they’re part of the organization,” he says. “They need to feel that they’re connected to the organization and the organization has a purpose—whatever that purpose is.”
That feeling of collaboration also goes hand-in-hand with empowerment. Meyer-Cuno says it’s just as important to ensure employees have the confidence to handle all tasks, and this can mean delegating to them rather than trying to fix every little “mini-fire” yourself. “In order to keep high talent, really the A-players, they’re going to have to empower those employees and let them grow into their jobs and into future jobs, by empowering them to solve those mini-fires,” he says.
Above all, it’s important for companies to be open to change in all forms. “This world is changing,” says Meyer-Cuno. “If we don’t change with it and become more open, we’re going to be left behind. We’re not going to get the employees we want.”