Manufacturers rely on a skilled workforce to implement, oversee, and improve their manufacturing processes. With millions of manufacturing jobs going unfilled each year, small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are looking for ways to attract qualified candidates and capture their full potential for growth and productivity. 

By focusing on the quality of the manufacturing jobs themselves, manufacturers can better attract teams of qualified job candidates. 

This blog explores the importance of prioritizing job quality in the manufacturing sphere and breaks down the key factors that contribute to meaningful job quality. It is based on the newly released Job Quality Toolkit published by the Department of Commerce.

High-Quality vs. Low-Quality Jobs

With a limited field of candidates available, it’s critical for manufacturers to offer job opportunities that genuinely interest and attract their target candidates. Along with a fairly tight labor market, the manufacturing industry — like many other industries — also struggles with a job quality problem. Characteristics of low-quality jobs include low pay, inconsistent work schedules, slow career advancement, and a lack of job training. Meanwhile, higher-quality jobs can be characterized as those that address these concerns and go further by providing workers with dignity, purpose, respect, better job security, and stability.

Manufacturers may attempt to fulfill their short-term needs by offering lower-quality jobs that don’t take into consideration employee satisfaction. They may see an immediate need for a new person in their operations and quickly create a position to fill that gap without considering the long-term implications of the perspective of the employee filling that position. However, to attract and retain talent for the long-term, manufacturers must consider overhauling their job requisition process to improve the quality aspects of all of their positions

Today’s workforce is dramatically different than that of just 10 years ago. Employees are more selective about where they work now — they want their jobs to be more fulfilling and their employers to appreciate them, and so their expectations are higher than what many older hiring managers may be accustomed to. Anyone from the Baby Boomer Generation who has hired employees in the last few years has probably experienced these new expectations first-hand.

Exploring the Job Quality Toolkit

The Job Quality Toolkit is a part of a federal initiative to create more engaging, fulfilling roles for the American workforce. This framework provides employers with strategies for making their jobs more appealing and satisfying for workers, promoting employee satisfaction, and reducing turnover. It targets small and medium-sized organizations, giving them the information they need to enhance job quality while operating with limited resources. It was developed with input from industry leaders, academics, unions, and policymakers, all who are dedicated to improving job quality for the front-line worker.

The Job Quality Toolkit addresses eight drivers of job quality and challenges employers to explore each category as an opportunity to improve their job offerings. Here is the  breakdown of how companies can best use each driver to provide better jobs that attract quality candidates...

1. Recruiting and Hiring

A company’s recruiting and hiring practices often give candidates their initial impression of the business. It's an opportunity for the company to set the tone and general “feel” of the organization, so the goal should be for the company to be as welcoming as possible to prospective employees. Imagine two different job candidates interviewing for a position: one who had a great recruiting experience where they felt welcomed, important, and needed; and a second who had a bad experience where they received little information about the job, had their interview timeslot changed last-minute, and sat in an empty meeting room waiting for the interview process to begin. These are two very different experiences that leave equally impactful impressions on candidates. As exemplified here, it’s critical to implement thoughtful hiring and onboarding processes to demonstrate to candidates that you respect their time, are invested in their professional growth, and are concerned with them as people. Candidates want to feel appreciated, respected, and valued contributors.

So, how can you enhance job quality at the recruiting stage? It involves a holistic approach that targets multiple aspects of the hiring process:

  • Determining job requirements: Finding the right match for skills and qualifications ensures that you secure the best candidates for each manufacturing role. A clear job description should be developed, reviewed, and clearly communicated to the candidate during the interview process.
  • Using skills-based recruiting: During the hiring process, thoroughly vet candidates by giving them opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Test them to ensure that they possess the abilities and behaviors that are most meaningful to you and to the manufacturing role.
  • Providing quality onboarding: Set employees up for success by helping them understand their place in the organization and aligning their duties with the greater mission of the company. Give a history of the company; explain the company’s mission, vision, and values. Try to determine if these items align with the goals and desires of the candidate.

2. Benefits

To effectively attract employees with your benefits package, it must be aligned with their needs and priorities. Measure benefits usage at your company and research the elements of a benefits menu that are most important to your employees. This allows you to allocate your limited resources appropriately and get the greatest impact from your benefits dollars. 

Assuming that you have only a fixed dollar amount to spend towards benefits, can those dollars be restructured into a “cafeteria plan” so that new employees can spend the dollars in the areas that are most important to them? For instance, one employee might value richer medical and dental benefits, while another employee may prefer basic medical and dental benefits so that they can use their unspent dollars to fund childcare expenses. This kind of flexibility adds tremendous value to your benefits program.

3. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)

Helping employees feel comfortable in the workplace is a core element of attracting and retaining talent. Addressing systemic barriers to the application process or the job itself gives you access to a larger pool of applicants. Effective DEIA practices extend past the hiring phase and ensure that each individual feels you value their unique contributions. This means making equal opportunity a core value and a practiced norm. 

Your company's training should align with your company’s mission, vision, and values. The goal is to reinforce the training as part of a sustained strategy to promote positive culture change if it is needed.

4. Empowerment and Representation

Employees gain more job satisfaction when they feel they have a say in their work. Demonstrate that you value the input of your workforce by allowing employees to share their perspectives and by facilitating dialogue about their experiences. You can empower employees by giving them a level of control over their work and showing that you trust their expertise and ability to be self-reliant. 

Try to enable workers to contribute to decisions about their work, such as how it is best performed. This directly ties into the Lean concept of empowering workers to be more engaged, and can make a positive impact on the direction of your organization.

5. Job Security and Working Conditions

Both psychological and physical security contribute to the overall quality of a job. People seek positions with high job security, allowing them to feel relaxed about their position in the company instead of grappling with the stress of potential unemployment. 

Consider innovative solutions to work schedules such as job sharing and various hybrid work arrangements. This helps employees better plan for childcare, eldercare, or selfcare. 

People also look for positions with safe working conditions to mitigate concerns about their physical safety. Being in an unsafe environment can cause elevated stress levels and communicate that the company doesn’t care about the well-being of its employees. Especially in a manufacturing environment, employees should feel comfortable bringing up conerns about job hazards. Regularly assess your working conditions for hazards and promptly address safety issues to ensure workers’ on-the-job safety. Ensure that your safety system addresses prevention, inspection, and root-cause analysis of failures; and consider tying your safety reporting to your quality system. Use assessments of work intensity and risk to determine if an adjustment is needed to lessen worker stress. And, to further demonstrate your commitment to your workforce’s well-being, develop and deploy a worker safety and health committee. 

Lastly, it’s important to anticipate high-volume workloads and adjust staffing to accommodate those times. Try to make more staffing decisions to maximize service effectiveness and customer value instead of just meeting payroll targets. And, be prepared to staff accordingly to ensure coverage in case of employee emergencies and time off.

6. Organizational Culture

The goal is to demonstrate through behaviors and leadership that all workers belong, are valued, and contribute to the organization. Having a high-quality organizational culture means being transparent and following through on commitments. 

Establish and uphold strong values consistent with your community of employees. Be clear about the data that informs your decisions and share your strategies for enhancing the employee experience. Foster open communication, high performance, and workforce engagement. Identify and address unhealthy behaviors. Lead by example. Demonstrate the importance of work-life balance by taking your own paid leave and sick time. Show accountability by having these actions included in your leadership evaluations.

Cultivate a workforce that reflects the many ideas, cultures, and thinking in your organization’s hiring and customer communities. Ensure the inclusion of new workforce members within your organizational culture. Most of all, make your leaders accountable for workplace culture. 

7. Pay

One very direct way to show that you value an employee’s work is by offering fair, competitive pay. Although it’s normal for SMMs to have budgetary restrictions, providing a fair living wage to all workers and ensuring competitive compensation practices is essential. Remember though that pay is just one determining factor in job quality; and you can make a job more appealing by enhancing the other factors until you can afford higher salaries.

8. Skill and Career Advancement

The purpose of continuous training and learning activities is to empower employees with new knowledge and skills. When employees have the opportunity to learn and grow within the workplace, they are less likely to look for that professional fulfillment elsewhere. 

Communicate clear, transparent career paths within the organization, along with the skills, competencies, and experiences needed to progress on those paths. Offer training opportunities that lead to industry-recognized credentials such as certificates, accreditations, licenses, or degrees. Offer tuition reimbursement for educational programs and cross-train workers so that employees can step in to help other departments when needed. Finally, ensure that workers meet with their supervisors at least twice per year to review their career paths and developmental needs.

Boost Job Quality Standards With CMTC

By investing in job quality, you can tap into a higher caliber of candidates and build a knowledgeable, loyal workforce that drives long-term productivity. 

CMTC provides customized workforce consulting services that can help you assess the current quality of your job offerings and identify areas for improvement. 

Partnering with CMTC gives you an expert perspective on the job quality gaps in your organization and provides a pathway to becoming a more supportive, engaged employer. Contact us today!

About the Author

Eliot Dratch

Eliot Dratch is a quality, lean and safety consultant who understands that U.S. manufacturing has been the economic engine that raised the living standards and built economic empowerment for the last 6 generations of Americans. Eliot’s work with manufacturers for his entire 30+ year career from different manufacturing sectors allows him to leverage a unique blend of experience for his clients. His goal is always to measurably improve a CMTC client’s productivity, safety and profitability.

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