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Recruiting, Retention, and Reputation: The Human Component of Manufacturing

The workforce shortage has been negatively impacting the manufacturing industry for years, resulting in many companies turning to advanced technologies to make up for the lack of workers. However, human employees cannot be completely replaced in a manufacturing setting, especially at small and medium-sized companies. That’s why it’s important for manufacturers to put in the work to maintain, develop, and upskill their workforce.

To effectively do this, manufacturing companies need to focus on three components of workforce development: recruiting, retention, and reputation. This phrase was a recurring theme in a recent interview with Rebecca Battle-Bryant, owner of Battle Plan Consulting, a firm that specializes in workforce solutions, including customized training and executive and management coaching.

Battle-Bryant made it clear in our workforce development discussion that the right people are important for a manufacturing facility to run effectively and to continually improve. She expressed that manufacturers still need “human ingenuity and collaboration to be as optimally effective as possible.” These recruiting, retention, and reputation strategies are designed to help manufacturers attract and preserve the right people to advance their manufacturing operations.

Recruiting in Manufacturing 

According to Battle-Bryant, whenever she works with a manufacturer that says they can’t find people, she encourages them to explore how they’re looking for people.

“I always ask them, ‘Where are you advertising your jobs?’, and I find, especially with small to medium-sized manufacturers, that they’re not online and they don’t have a social media presence where they’re advertising jobs,” Battle-Bryant explains. “If you don’t have your jobs listed online, if it isn’t mobile-friendly, then you’re going to lose a significant portion of the largest labor pool out there, which is younger workers."

Recruitment is one area where technology can complement a predominantly human process. Applicant tracking software and automation can streamline the process, while also collecting and tracking applicant data.

In addition to advocating for a more digitally advanced application process, Battle-Bryant also recommends companies audit their hiring process. Audits should focus on a business’s current advertising methods, interview style and questions, open job descriptions, and occupation task lists. Battle-Bryant emphasizes having a thorough and updated occupation task list as one of the most important aspects of recruitment.

“That current, up-to-date occupation task list is the foundation for how you recruit and retain your employees,” she says. “Supervisors and managers need to come up with a task list that accurately reflects the job.”

Another important aspect of the audit is for manufacturers to look at whether their recruitment techniques consider the different generations. “Your more mature workers are your work horses; they don’t want to quit and want to feel relevant. So, I ask manufacturers, ‘Are you recruiting people that were great employees that left to see if they're willing to think about coming back?’ I’ve known retired workers to come back as trainers, or process mappers, or procedure control document writers. And they are able to train and guide the younger, less experienced workers.”

And then when it comes to including younger workers, that online presence is particularly important. To tap into the younger labor pool, companies should think about having younger workers, or even teenagers, review their website and give honest feedback.

Companies have to identify the gaps they have in recruitment and work to fill them in order to succeed in attracting workers in the present-day labor force.

Workforce Development: Retention 

Focusing on the retention aspect of workforce development also requires a business to take an in-depth look at their procedures, policies, and processes when it comes to new hires and their current workforce. Retention work starts as soon as onboarding begins for new employees.

Going back to creating a new occupation task list during the recruiting audit, new employees should get that list on their first day to outline their job responsibilities. The top of the list outlines what they should be doing within the first three months, the middle of the list aligns with around three to nine months, and the bottom of the list should be expectations for one to three years out.

This process is something companies ideally need to be doing as part of their retention strategy. However, many businesses aren’t mapping out their expectations in this way or making enough of an effort to ensure new employees are meeting all their milestones.

Battle-Bryant outlines her approach: “I ask the manufacturers I work with, ‘What happens from the minute you’ve said you’re hired? What does the pre-onboarding and first day experience look like?’ Employees should feel welcome on their first day, they should have a schedule of introductions, and be paired with another colleague that acts as a mentor or guide. And it doesn’t stop there. Most companies think onboarding is just day one, but really it should last a full year.”

A good onboarding process is deliberate, intentional, and lasts about a year. And that’s what companies need to keep in mind when auditing their retention strategies: What does the first year look like? What training and professional development opportunities are available to new employees?

Then, as new employees transition out of that year-long onboarding process, there should be continued opportunities for learning and development. One example is that colleague pairing idea for new hires. For more tenured employees, that can be a built-on retention strategy that sets up good employees in a leadership development opportunity.

When it comes to retention strategies, employees need to feel respected and included in the workplace. Being inclusive and putting in the effort to coach and train employees is a significant step to improving a manufacturing company’s retention rate.

Community Reputation 

“What I tell companies when it comes to reputation: ‘If you don’t have the recruitment and retention down, then your reputation is already in trouble’,” Battle-Bryant says about the third component of workforce development in manufacturing.

A company’s values and how they treat their workers is extremely important in today’s workforce, especially when it comes to younger workers. It starts from the top down, from the executive level to leadership positions such as managers and supervisors to employees on the floor; businesses need every level to model the style of leadership and communication that resonates with the workforce.

“A command-and-control style does not connect with today’s workforce,” explains Battle-Bryant. “Problem-solving and decisiveness are great traits, but leadership needs to understand how to communicate with all behavior preferences in order to keep employees.”  

Another way to enhance reputation is for a company to recognize what impact, or potential impact, they have on their community. Anything a company is doing in terms of social responsibility is something they should be advertising. That includes efforts to be more environmentally conscious, any charity or non-profit work, or investments in education or community development.

“All of that is considered value-add and should be highlighted on your website for potential applicants to see, because those efforts are very important, especially to younger workers,” Battle-Bryant says. “These are the kinds of sincere, relevant, and meaningful acts companies should be doing. And that will go a long way in showing what the company stands for, and attracting people that want to be associated with that.”

The Three “Rs” of Workforce Development

Recruitment, retention, and reputation are what Battle-Bryant has coined the three “Rs” of workforce development. Manufacturing companies need to audit their practices relating to these three concepts to determine how they can improve. Not only will this help to attract good workers, but it will also help businesses to retain the great workers they already have. Though there have been significant advancements for automaton within the manufacturing industry, human workers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and it’s important for manufacturers to understand how to retain dedicated employees.

For more information and insight into workforce development, check out these resources: the Battle Plan Consulting Website, the Workforce Development Playbook, and the SOUTHTEC manufacturing event.


Dr. Rebecca Battle-Bryant, President & Owner of Battle Plan Consulting

Dr. Battle-Bryant is a proactive, results-oriented leader with a unique professional background, encompassing private industry, government, higher education, and policy development, with over 25 years of management experience. She has the keen ability to translate a business vision and mission into key performance indicators to improve employee engagement, growth, and profitability. Her passion is workforce and developing collaborative business alliances, utilizing deep community roots and networking strengths, with private industry, trade associations, education, non-profits, and government organizations to build a thriving workforce.

Additionally, Dr. Battle-Bryant is a certified facilitator and coach. She is certified in problem solving, process management, and self-directed work team theory and tools programming. Additionally, she is certified to deliver AchieveGlobal and Development Dimensions International (DDI) programs, in Leadership, Team Building, and Customer Service. She is a graduate of Auburn University where she received her undergraduate degree in Business Administration, majoring in Marketing and Sales, and a Master of Business Administration.  She received a doctorate degree at the University of South Carolina in Higher Education Administration in 2009.