Manufacturers: Change the Conversation to Solve Your Workforce Problem

I recently read an article in the Milwaukee Business Journal that sparked an idea for this post. The article, titled: Manufacturers’ message on industry not yet connecting, summarized highlights from a recent Manufacturing CEO Roundtable. The main issue discussed, of course, was workforce and the ability to recruit the right employees for open positions. Not a big surprise. The manufacturing industry in many areas of the country, including where I’m based in Northeast Wisconsin, has spent over a decade trying to address this issue. Some of these efforts have indeed, been quite successful. So why is the message still not resonating with students and prospective employees?

Your brand is stale.

The manufacturing industry has a brand, and I’m not talking about a logo. It may not be a very good brand, and it definitely wasn’t created intentionally (more on that later). But it does exist. The perception has been, for dozens of years, that manufacturing careers are dumb, dirty, dangerous, dead-end… Those in the industry know, that simply isn’t true. It is going to take some work to shift that perception and some time before people will truly understand the value a career in manufacturing can bring.

Your message is missing the mark.

What do you want people to think about when they think of a career in manufacturing? The message will all depend on who you’re talking to. You have many different audiences with whom to share your message, from prospective adult employees to middle and high school students, parents, teachers and guidance counselors. How are you sending the right message to the right audience at the right time where they are ready to receive it?

You’re doing a lot. You have to do more, and do it well.

Being a Wisconsin girl, born and raised, I hate to use this example, but here goes… “Pure Michigan.” You know what I’m talking about. The whimsical music begins as the scene opens with a breathtaking shot of the great outdoors. The calming voice of Tim Allen begins to woo you, inspiring you to consider the ways you can savor all that Michigan has to offer. As many communities have, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation knew they needed to do something to compete for growth in the midwest. They decided to intentionally create a brand that would resonate with a variety of audiences and use television media outside of the state to share that message. Not saying you have to make a sizable investment to embark on television campaign, but you do have to think big!

What To Do

It may seem overwhelming, but supports exist to help begin to change the message so it resonates with prospective employees and those who influence those individuals. Here is how you might get started:

  1. Start thinking about your employer brand. Today’s job-seekers and future job-seekers are checking out you and the industry before they make college/career path choices or apply for an open position at your company.
  2. Map out a list of all of your audiences – students, parents, teachers, prospective employees, etc.
  3. For each audience, find out where they are most likely to consume your message and chart those channels as an extension of your list. This may require some research about which channels are hitting each of your target audiences most frequently.
  4. For each audience, craft a clear message about your industry/company and how you might share that message using the channels listed above.
  5. Collaborate – A large-scale campaign designed to change perception is a huge undertaking. Invest the time, money and resources into doing it right by partnering with other manufacturers, community partners and professional firms for the greatest impact.
  6. Keep up the good work! Manufacturers in Northeast Wisconsin and beyond have a lot to be proud of regarding their efforts in recruiting talent through K-12 and postsecondary partnerships and other talent initiatives over the past decade. Now is the time to build on that success!

See more posts about Employer Recruiting/Retention​ Communications​

About the author:

Melinda Morella-Olson

Melinda Morella-Olson is Imaginasium's director of strategic engagement. She is responsible for uncovering client needs and matching them with Imaginasium’s capabilities. Melinda is also instrumental in developing the strategic partnerships and marketing strategies that help Imaginasium connect with prospective clients.   @MelMorella.