Author's Note: I've been researching the nitty gritty of hiring challenges in U.S. manufacturing. Often, struggles with hiring get chalked up to the skilled labor shortage. However, through conversations with HR and manufacturing operations leaders, I've noticed patterns that could be solved with specific strategies that don't depend upon solving the labor shortage for the industry as a whole. Because I'm from a small town in Arkansas, one of my favorites is the particular challenge of staffing a manufacturing plant in a rural area.

As one hiring manager put it, everyone who lives near a rural plant fits into one of three categories:

  1. Already works at the plant.
  2. Knows about the plant and doesn’t want to work there.
  3. Is someone that they’ve already interviewed.

In many cases, larger manufacturers got their start in smaller places, or they built plants in the middle of nowhere for very resource or region-specific reasons. With the skilled-labor shortage squeezing the heck out of US manufacturers, these rural plants are getting harder and harder to fill with the right employees.

Unlike the high volume, lower skill production work done at plants close to large pools of labor, these smaller plants need employees with higher levels of skill, because they are often the plants doing highly-specialized manufacturing work. The increased skill level required to do work at the rural plants shrinks the possible labor pool even further. To make matters worse, these rural plants are typically much farther away from the technical colleges where people would learn a skilled trade.

However, there’s a fourth category of people in these rural communities: people who don’t think they belong in a manufacturing environment. I’m talking about people who you wouldn’t see if you walked into that rural plant today: women. Women who are changing careers are particularly interested in learning new skills. And if you think about it, if you have 200 people on the production floor in your plant and only 2 of them are women, statistically, there are far more women in the area that you could be hiring.

The keys to recruiting women into manufacturing are inspiring them and letting them know what a hands-on technical career could do for their lives and investing in their growth. Women also need to know that they are welcome, the environment is free from hazards, and that there’s a women’s restroom (you’d be surprised).

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