Recently, one of the young men on the summer basketball team that I coach says to me, “Hey Mr. P, I need a job! You have connections…I know you do! So can you help me?”

“Well,” I said, “I have connections at many window companies, so I could possibly help you get an entry-level manufacturing job making windows and doors!”

“Hmmm,” he says, “What else do you got, Mr. P?  What about Best Buy? I know you know people there. Or what about Longhorn Steakhouse or Smokey Bones? You know the managers there, don’t you?”

Well, this got me pondering. Nearly all of my door and window customers are complaining about how hard it is to staff their production floors. With the busy season moving into full gear, I know many of them will be struggling to keep qualified production personnel on the floor. So, what must our industry do to make manufacturing jobs more appealing?

Indeed, many of my customers tell me it’s a real struggle to find people to work on the plant floor. I hear stories of 150 people hired after an intensive job fair, and only a handful remain after the first four weeks. Some don’t even give a notice.

“I went to his work station to check on him and he was just gone!” said one very frustrated production line supervisor. “He didn’t even tell anyone. He just walked off and left! Do you believe that?”

Well, unfortunately, I do believe it, because it is not the first time I have heard such a story.

So as an industry, what do we do to make our door and window manufacturing jobs more desirable to people who are not afraid to work hard (the kind we want to hire) but are also looking for a job that carries a degree of respect and opportunities for future growth and development? Well, in many cases it is as simple as what I just said. Respect your manufacturing workers and offer them opportunities for future growth and development.

When I walk onto a manufacturing floor, I can instantly tell whether or not the company respects its production people. Is the production floor clean and clutter free?  Does it have adequate ventilation or is it like working in a sweat shop? What does the break room look like? Is everyone wearing adequate safety equipment? Is the machinery they are using well maintained, and is it equipped with modern safety devices? Are the forklift travel lanes well marked and are there safety mirrors at each intersection, or is this place an accident waiting to happen?  What types of messages are displayed on the employee communication board? Is there an employee communication board? Does it have positive messages or feedback on goals displayed? Are employee safety milestones displayed, such as “1,000 days without a lost time accident”? Are such milestones celebrated with the employees, such as throwing a party or giving them a monetary reward?

I recently visited one of my customers that invested in new software that provides instant feedback on daily production goals. The software shows the daily goal on a screen at each work station. The screen depicts a speedometer type of gauge. Up-to-the-minute feedback on actual units per hour vs. goal is displayed, as well as percentage of daily goal that has been met, and whether they are running behind or ahead of goal. Quality feedback is also shown. Rewards are given if the team finishes the day by meeting or beating production and quality goals.

So back to my discussion with the young man looking for the job. I probed deeper, asking him why he didn’t want to work in a window factory. Having just graduated from high school, he is choosing not to go to college, but is looking for some type of job. So why not a manufacturing job? After all, he seems very healthy and able bodied, and he is also very intelligent. He is one of my best players.

“My mom doesn’t want me working on a dirty plant floor where I will easily get bored and sooner or later get hurt,” he replied.  This remark made me ponder further: “Is this the typical perception among young people as well as their parents regarding manufacturing jobs?”

Industry Week featured an enlightening article last year by Patricia Panchak entitled “A Tale of (at least) Two Manufacturing Worlds.”

“Nearly every survey ever conducted on parents’ views of manufacturing as a career choice confirms that the old dirty, dumb and dangerous stigma endures,” she writes. “Other disconcerting views are that manufacturing jobs are unstable, likely to be among the first offshored, and low paying.”

So how do we change this perception among young people looking for their first job so that they will seriously consider a manufacturing job as a promising career path? We need to do something or our industry will be faced with even more severe manufacturing labor shortages.

What are your ideas? Feel free to respond here, or email me at Jimplav@gmail.com.

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