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Hiring Strategies for Long-Term Retention in Manufacturing

In our latest newsletter, HR and TA Professionals share their experiences with balancing the need for speed in the recruiting process while optimizing for quality and retention.

The current manufacturing landscape is fiercely competitive, with companies vying for a limited pool of top talent. This intense pressure can often lead hiring professionals to rush decisions in an effort to keep pace. Unfortunately, prioritizing speed over quality can have a detrimental impact on retention.  So, the question becomes: how can we help hiring professionals identify quality candidates quickly,  allowing them to maintain their hiring speed without compromising long-term retention targets?

We sat down with several seasoned talent acquisition professionals to gain their insights on the key attributes, skills, and qualities they look for when evaluating potential hires. Their perspectives paint a picture of the ideal manufacturing candidate – one who possesses not only the necessary technical skills but also the soft skills, cultural fit, and long-term potential to thrive in their organization.

Special thanks: Angie Booth - Powell Industries, Kelli Cooper - Powell Industries, Matthew C. , NFI Industries, Marcella Misnik, CDR - Image FIRST, and Josh Elliott- Hudson RPO

First and Foremost: Technical Proficiency is the Bar

When asked about the essential qualities of a standout candidate, our interviewees unanimously agreed that technical skills are merely the foundation. Kelli Cooper Recruiter at Powell Industries explained,

"Obviously, you want someone who has the skills for the job, right? And in manufacturing, you have your skilled labor, and then you have the folks that can come in entry-level. They can learn, they can be trained on what they need to do."

However, she quickly emphasized that technical proficiency alone is a part of the bare minimum.

"If they have some of those basic skills, basic knowledge, you can get them to the next level if they have the right attitude, work ethic, and want to stick around."

This sentiment was echoed by others, including Angie Booth who works as a Talent Acquisition Manager at Powell underscoring that while technical aptitude is necessary, it's the additional layers of soft skills and cultural fit that truly distinguish top candidates especially for lower level roles where there is room for growth.

When faced with two candidates with comparable technical qualifications, what tips the scales?

Attitude, Initiative, and Culture Fit Set Candidates Apart

For many of our interviewees, it comes down to things like attitude, initiative, and other softer skills that come out in the interview itself.

For Kelli and Angie and their company Powell, what happens in the interview is going to dictate and weed out applicants that aren’t “quality.” and also help them decide between two similarly qualified candidates.

“During the hiring process, candidates meet with a supervisor and a lead. We provide a thorough tour of the facility, getting to know the environment. Candidates get to see the equipment, tools, and the work being done. Machine operator candidates are assessed on their knowledge during the walkthrough, while welders complete a weld test. Our supervisors and leads, many of whom have been with the company for over 10 years, engage in conversations with the candidates to help them understand our work environment. After the interviews, decisions are made quickly due to our high hiring volume. Once a decision is made, we contact the candidate, make an offer, and begin the onboarding process.”

With this process, Powell is able to efficiently evaluate candidates during an interview while providing the candidates with a smooth experience at the same time. This can reduce the chances that the candidate will “ghost” them after the interview and/or take an offer from a competing employer. It’s a two-way street. Of course finding the candidates in the first place is important, but also making sure what you have to offer as a company is attractive for them.

Beyond skills and attitude, our interviewees consistently highlighted the importance of cultural fit in predicting a candidate's long-term success within their organization.

Marcella Misnik, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Image First explained,

"We have a really, really unique culture here at Image First. Our culture has remained rooted in the family values the company started with. We want to make sure that not only is that individual a good fit for the role in terms of skill set but also in terms of our culture. We want anyone potentially joining our team to add to, if not allow our culture to stay the same."

Angie agreed but also expanded on what it means to be a culture fit for her company,

“Looking side by side, You're gonna go, okay but Candidate A is gonna be the better culture fit than Candidate B. Candidate A could excel here. They could be a future leader here if we look to promote within. I would say that would be the determining factor.”

Kelli echoed this sentiment,

“I mean it could be two candidates that one of them might be a little more skilled, maybe they scored higher on the Weld test, for example, but the one that has more eagerness to learn and seems like they would fit in better with that particular group department is what it comes down to,”

Matthew Cayruth Recruiter from NFI Industries, also emphasized that cultural fit and soft skills like teamwork and personality are very important beyond technical skills

For these talent acquisition professionals, finding candidates who align with their organization's values and mesh well with the existing team is just as crucial as technical proficiency for long-term retention and success.

How do you balance the need for speed in the hiring process while maintaining quality standards?

The Long Game: Retention as the Ultimate Goal

When it comes to defining quality in the manufacturing hiring process, our interviewees were unanimous in their focus on long-term retention. As Cayruth put it,

"With our business, what's most important is retention. So if we can hire either a driver or a maintenance technician and they're with the company for three to five years or until retirement, to us, that is the goal."
“I would rather take time to vet out a candidate and make sure that they're the right one for the job rather than just filling it and then having to come back and do that over again because we rushed the process. My approach is definitely like, hey, if it takes me 60 days rather than 45 then we got someone that's solid.” - Josh Elliott, Talent Acquisition Partner, Hudson RPO

This emphasis on retention underscores the true measure of a quality hire in the eyes of these professionals. It's not just about finding someone who can perform well in the short term but rather identifying candidates with the potential to grow, thrive, and contribute to the organization for years to come. This point is backed up by our most recent poll which showed that 75% of Talent Acquisition/recruiting professionals lean towards quality over meeting a time-to-fill benchmark. But what do you do if you're up against the clock and your organization really needs to fill positions quickly? After all, the world of recruiting isn’t a rosy picture especially in the manufacturing industry and high quality candidates aren’t always at your doorstep.

Angie Booth from Powell Industries was candid,

"Well, it often results in a lot of turnover," she shared. "There are times where we have to fill through a trusted third-party temporary agency. As much as we all want to do it ourselves, we'll have those folks in for the jobs we're working on. Sometimes those people transition into full-time roles, but I do believe that quantity is gonna count on our team because they need bodies for the job."
“I’d love to say we never sacrifice quality, but sometimes things get overlooked when you have to make hires fast.”

She goes on to say that not just every person that comes through the door is getting hired and that they have to get creative in order to get these positions filled including leaning into current employees for referrals. This balancing act between hiring speed and quality is a challenge especially for larger companies that have to keep up with the high-volume and big upswings in demand for their products.

Angie also pointed out that her organization isn’t content with this conundrum and that they’ve improved their training and onboarding processes by adding a level 2 to many of their roles. They did this to improve not only their retention, but also to help employees improve their skills. This builds on the goal of maintaining quality hires.

The Bottom Line: Quality is a Multifaceted Equation

As these talent acquisition professionals have shared, the definition of a quality candidate in the manufacturing space is far from one-dimensional. It's a complex equation that balances technical skills with soft skills, cultural fit with growth potential, and short-term performance with long-term retention.

By understanding these key factors and prioritizing them in the hiring process, manufacturing organizations can better identify and attract the candidates who will not only excel in their roles but also contribute to a positive, thriving workplace culture for years to come.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this critical topic. What qualities do you prioritize when evaluating candidates for your manufacturing organization? How do you balance the pressures of hiring speed with the desire to find the perfect long-term fit? Share your experiences and insights – let's keep this vital conversation going.