Skip to main content

Combating Skilled Labor Shortages Head-On

A quote I’ve seen in several recent industry articles has caught my attention:

CFO asks CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?

It’s an unfortunate trend that trades in many industries are struggling with—the never-ending task of trying to find and keep skilled, driven, loyal workers. Maintaining a skilled workforce is like winning the lottery in the manufacturing world. But this isn’t a gold mine companies simply stumble upon.

Recruiting and then retaining highly sought-after employees requires work—a commitment to training, an investment in higher education and a dedication to providing exceptional employee benefits. I’ve had several lengthy conversations with human resource managers, fabricators and factory floor workers on this timely and important topic; and in the process, I’ve gathered a few best practices we can all implement to help combat some of the issues that keep us up at night. Working to fight labor shortages and low employee retention rates is certainly an investment, but it’s an investment worth making, as the alternative of continually trying to recruit new talent would be much pricier. Here are four tips to get you (and your HR department) started:

Improve your “bench strength.”

In an ideal world, talented recruits would be knocking down your door. But that’s rarely the case. While it’s important to search for the right employees, be sure to also focus some attention on your current ones. Many hard workers on the factory floor are ready and willing to further their training; they just lack the tools and resources to do so.

One way to formalize their education is to consider a partnership with a local technical school or university. Most schools are willing to work with companies to develop customized courses that cater to their unique needs, helping to simultaneously strengthen your workforce while creating a level of commitment to your company. This, of course, comes with a price, but it allows managers to put a formal process in place to develop workers’ skills in the exact areas needed, making up for the price in money saved on having to continually recruit new talent.

Collaborate with other manufacturing companies.

Great ideas, efficiencies and best practices can often be found inside the four walls of businesses outside your immediate industry. Consider connecting with managers and C-level executives of other non-competitive manufacturing companies in similar settings. Being open to sharing business insights and models that are working for your company may help you uncover fresh insights to improve your own technical processes, maintenance procedures, recruiting strategies, training programs, etc., that have worked for others. This non-competitive environment will be beneficial to both parties, helping each other grow and learn from the other’s trials and errors.


Work to provide an atmosphere and culture that fosters employee development, education and a sense of purpose. If you’re not able to create a custom training course with a local school, consider offering your workers a tuition reimbursement, empowering them to take charge of their own education and become leaders within the organization. In addition to a tuition reimbursement program, reward employees for taking the initiative to further their training. Promoting your hardest, smartest workers will create an environment where people are inspired to do better because they understand the rewards and opportunities that come with it.

Encourage a work/life balance.

The needs and expectations of your employees are changing. Today’s new generation of workers has grown up being encouraged to balance the demands of their job with a successful home life. Challenge your HR department and management team to better understand these needs and create a culture in which this balance is welcome. Sometimes it’s as easy as encouraging people to leave when the day is done and not stay late. Other simple gestures such as an extra paid day off, a flexible schedule if they have necessary doctor’s appointments, or a quarterly celebration for everyone’s hard work can go a long way to boost morale.

Today’s environment is a tough one—demands are higher, budgets are tighter and employees’ expectations are evolving. Creating a workplace that retains talent and attracts the right people is an ever-changing journey rather than a destination.

You know who your hardest workers are. I challenge you to ask yourself what your company would be like if they left. Create a quarterly, if not monthly, check-in with your management team and HR group to make sure you’re moving in the right direction, giving your employees opportunities to grow and succeed.

By taking these steps, your ROI will be realized in more ways than one. You will have happy employees who produce quality work and you will create a culture of which others will want to be a part.


Joe Erb

Joe Erb

Joe Erb is national account manager for Quanex Building Products.