How to attract and retain talent in manufacturing and distribution

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent in the manufacturing and distribution space, most people look outward.

We’ve all heard it: There is a war on talent. The baby boomer workforce is retiring. Manufacturing is dying. The available workforce doesn’t have the necessary skill sets that employers need. (Learn more about these and other risk factors in BDO’s report:

But before you point fingers at the external hurdles to your labor woes, Stacy Feiner, Psy.D., management consulting director at BDO USA, LLP, believes you need to tackle your internal issues.

There is validity to the external challenges like a scarcity of ready talent, but Feiner recommends that companies first look at developing their hiring and recruiting practices, methods of on-boarding new talent and training capabilities.

“I think the issues stem internally,” Feiner says. “There is a lot of great talent out there if businesses were better at presenting the value of working at their company.”

Smart Business spoke with Feiner about developing a talent management system.

Where do businesses fall short with their talent management?

It takes skill to recruit and attract top talent, but many manufacturers and distributors employ antiquated processes and methods that don’t reach ready candidates and aren’t truly connected to the company’s culture.

Another problem is that poor hiring practices can unwittingly turn top talent away. Top talent might be coming to the door, but the company doesn’t impress that talent as a great place to work. Or, maybe the organization can find great talent, but once that talent comes in, there’s not enough training and development to keep them.

How can employers be more proactive in building their talent management system?

Remember that numbers are a lagging indicator. People drive the numbers, so that’s where your focus should be.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by skimping on recruiting and seeing it as an expense. Instead invest in talent — establish an annual budget, use new tools and follow a disciplined hiring process. The value that people bring is what sets your company up for success, so you need to be engaged.

You also need a plan; rather than see talent problems in isolation, see them as part of a system. If something is broken in recruiting, it negatively impacts succession planning. If performance management isn’t working, your employee engagement will decline. When you see these components of talent management in a system, you can build a program that increases your bench strength.

Engaged leaders ensure that their people have clear goals, while having the tools to achieve those goals; that their people see opportunities for career development; and that their people feel a sense of belonging.

What are some examples of this?

One manufacturer went through 10 years of growth, but when it attracted sophisticated customers with bigger orders it was under staffed and under prepared. So, it set out to build its infrastructure by adding a middle-tier executive team of high performers from large companies who were frustrated by the bureaucracy. Their entrepreneurial spirit and potential was unleashed in the smaller company, which is poised to double in size.

Another company determined it had to redesign its business model, going from brick and mortar to e-commerce. Rather than replacing the workforce, the leadership team developed its current employees for new roles through assessment and training, and a high-touch change management process. They compared the investment costs of each option and decided it was riskier to try to integrate a new workforce. Plus, by getting buy-in for the change, the employees united around the mission and took on an ownership mentality.

What else would you like to share?

Business owners can choose to develop and build the right talent management system that solves their people problems. Recognize that the strength of your company is inventing, designing, manufacturing and distributing valuable and essential products to the world — widgets big and small. You don’t have to tackle these people challenges alone. Get someone who understands how it all works together to ensure you have the right solution to optimize talent.

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