Your Shop NEEDS a Better People Plan

November 9, 2022

Written by: Paul Van Metre

I recently attended the NTMA Engage 2022 conference, where I talked with many shop owners. Most lamented that they were so busy (a good problem to have), but they had a hard time finding workers. I heard many of them talk about how they had lost key people, had long-term employees retire after years, and weren’t getting enough traction with their job ads. If you’re like these shop owners you’re likely in a similar situation.

These are real issues that have a significant impact on your businesses. You have to turn down work, push out due dates on customer jobs, leave machines sitting idle and forgo revenue that you could otherwise generate if they had more employees. What would your company look like today if you weren’t having issues with labor?

These challenges have been a long time coming. And they’ve been a result of both internal and external circumstances. The good news is that you can solve these issues with careful planning, so they aren’t a major impediment to your growth.  Most shops haven’t solved this problem, but some have, and so can you!

External Forces Affecting Your Employee Problems
As author and speaker Chris Czarnick so clearly communicates, with the aging of the baby boomers, it’s a mathematical certainty that our workforce will have fewer workers than it did previously and what we need to meet the demand of our companies now and going forward. Especially in manufacturing, which still has an image problem, with not enough young people and their parents excited about careers in manufacturing. That image problem is improving, but not at the rate it needs to, and certainly not at the rate needed to solve your employee issue next month or next year. Given this, you will be competing with other shops for your employees if you hire people with prior experience in machine shops.

Internal Forces Affecting Your Employee Problems
Of course, there is a whole spectrum of shops with different cultures and ways they manage and treat their employees. From the best shops that inspire, challenge, and care for their employees in a way that makes employees feel valued, like part of a family. Those employees aren’t out looking for new jobs.  So when a headhunter message is received they dismiss it because they are happy and don’t want to leave their jobs. These shops have created a gravity that pulls employees to them all the time.  They are known in their regions for being a great place to work, and they have far fewer problems with recruiting and retaining employees than the average shop.
Then there are the shops whose owners micromanage, insult, pressure, and don’t trust or empower their employees.  They treat them like crap, believing that the employees are there to serve them and do their bidding how and when they say. These people are dead wrong, and it is not a winning strategy. You’d better believe that with the head hunter calls, those employees would be happy to take the call. They’re happy to change jobs to get a few more bucks an hour. Remember, people don’t leave their jobs. They leave managers. These shops will constantly be fighting to retain staff and will always be limited in their growth potential because of it.
But most companies are in the middle of these two extremes. They have owners who care, generally do a decent job, and treat their employees with kindness most of the time, but they still have a lot of room for improvement. Many companies have been going about their long-term employee issues without much strategic thinking.  Not putting a ton of consideration into the overall age of their workforce, succession planning, key employee retention, training, technology, etc. They have tried traditional, somewhat half-hearted efforts to recruit and retain.  If you walk around many of these shops you might notice a lot of 50+ year old workers, which means that all that experience and knowledge will leave the company before too long.  How does your company look in comparison?

Assess your Workforce Situation

Make a list of the people in your company, especially your leaders, and note their roles, approximate ages, and years before retirement.  Now let’s answer these questions:
1. Does it paint the picture of a company that has a deep management team with many years left before retirement?  
2. Do you clearly identify individuals who expect to rise through the ranks to take over those leadership positions when the old guard retires? 
3. Do you have documented plans for what you’ll do when those older workers leave, who may only have a few years left?
4. Are you successfully recruiting a younger workforce to backfill employees who may be moving into management positions?
5. Do you have a formal training program to help upskill those younger employees?
6. How are you capturing that vital knowledge that those older workers have? Is it in a very accessible format to help maximize the knowledge transfer to younger workers?

Take it a Step Further
Create an actual org chart of your team and fill in all the employees in their current roles.  Next to their names, write a number approximately representing how much training/knowledge they need for their role. You can do this on a whiteboard, spreadsheet, or some free flowchart software online. But the exercise is to identify where your gaps are currently and where gaps will be created when your aging workforce retires.

Step Up Your Recruiting Game
I’m not going to try to lay out all the steps that Chris Czarnik outlines in his book Winning the War for Talent, but it might be one of the most important books you read in years. But in a nutshell, do the following:
1. Develop personas of the type of employees you want to hire. Do this by talking to your current team, studying personality profiles, and figure out what makes these people tick.
2. Craft very strategic job ads that speak to these personas.  Your application rate will be higher, with the right type of people.
3. Once hired, give employees a place where they can thrive and feel fulfilled in their work. Pay them fairly, treat them great, and let them do their best work.  Pay is only not in the top 2-3 reasons why people leave jobs.

Develop Your People Plan
After successfully attracting and retaining the right people, you need a longer term strategic plan for growing those team members to be your future leaders. Getting them upskilled into the roles they will grow into and getting tribal knowledge captured in a systematic way.  This is the hardest part of the whole process but probably the most important one. There is so much riding on the outcome of this process.

How can ProShop Help?
ProShop can be a great recruiting tool! Just hear from these shops who’ve done that. But we can’t help much with developing your personas.  Once hired, ProShop’s Training module and Company Positions module can really help with helping you to visualize your training gaps/needs and help manage the training process for your whole team.
And it goes without saying, that when your team is increasing your company throughput by 25% on average by not searching for lost job travelers, getting frustrated by not having needed information at their fingertips, and having to deal with obsolete information caused by paper-based processes, that’s a lot of frustration that can be eliminated, so you and your team can focus on winning!  And people love to be on a winning team!

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