Author's Note: Hiring challenges in U.S. manufacturing go far beyond the shortage of skilled labor. I’ve been digging into the details through conversations with HR and manufacturing operations leaders, and I’ve noticed a few patterns. And there’s good news: some of the biggest issues can be solved with strategies that don't depend upon fixing the entire industry.

The Problem: Marketing resources for talent acquisition are frequently kept at the corporate level, but manufacturing plants are responsible for their own recruiting efforts.

At the risk of ruffling some feathers, here’s a question: “Could you imagine putting your corporate marketing team in charge of running production?” If the answer is no, then you probably also shouldn’t place the burden of recruitment marketing at the plant level either. ​​

From what I can tell, the majority of manufacturers in the US require plants to do their own hiring. This means that each plant is responsible for recruiting and screening its own hires. But not every plant has the same needs. And some plants have special challenges, like location, specific skills required, or working conditions.

When there is an abundance of talent, traditional methods of recruiting, like word-of-mouth, community college career fairs, and job boards are sufficient. However, for the past decade, talent has been in shorter and shorter supply, eventually adding up to the nearly 500,000 open jobs in manufacturing today. When talent is more scarce, HR managers often add another tactic –poaching– but even that doesn’t solve the problem. Recruiters need new methods to acquire talent.

In my conversations with hundreds of US manufacturers, I’ve yet to come across a plant that has the marketing resources and expertise to engage in effective social media and digital advertising. But this is exactly what is required to reach outside the plant’s community and spread knowledge about the growth potential, stability, and satisfying sense of purpose you get from a career in manufacturing.

The Solution: Let people do what they are best at.

Plants need to be focused on everything related to efficiently producing goods and screening applicants to ensure they are hiring high quality employees. It doesn’t make sense to also require every plant to learn how to do things like optimizing digital advertising spend. Social media is a one-to-many form of communication and is uniquely able to be handled in a centralized way that still directly supports HR folks at the plant level. Each plant needs strategic recruitment marketing, but that work should be done at the corporate level to be effective.

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