Workforce RecruitmentBy Julie Davis, AEM Senior Director of Workforce Development

As the United States continues to open up, businesses across the country are having a hard time filling their workforce needs. Manufacturers are increasing wages, offering signing bonuses, working with staffing agencies and pulling every trick in their arsenal to try to buy, borrow and steal labor.

For some, talent acquisition has moved from being one of the things keeping them up at night to the thing keeping them up at night. For those of us working in the world of workforce development, it’s difficult to have a conversation with companies that gets beyond crisis recruitment. Although giving new ideas on recruitment definitely can be a first conversation, as a company, if you want to win the talent war, you need to be willing to do the follow-up work and start to take some ownership for building your talent bench.

If you still believe that someone else is going to solve your talent problem, ask yourself how we got to this point. After all, we were in a talent crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment supplements, tax incentives and whatever else you might be blaming for not finding enough workers today.

First, what are some real actions that you can take right now to help with crisis recruitment. Brace yourself for the answer, because if you want to gain access to talent pools that everyone else isn’t already fighting over, you many need to expand your comfort zone and challenge your normal. There are three talent pools that could have trained, employable, ready to hire candidates in them right now that you could choose to recruit from if you are willing:

Target Ex-Offenders

Consider fishing for talent in the largest under-utilized talent pool in the nation. It’s a talent pool that has been provided access to free skilled trades training, provides tax incentives to companies just for hiring them, is often very loyal once hired. If you aren’t willing to consider hiring from the ex-offender talent pool, you’re cutting out nearly 1 out of 3 Americans who have some sort of record. If you need workers, ask yourself if you are unable to hire or unwilling to hire when considering this talent pool.

Want more information? Check out the recent Second Chance Hiring for Manufacturers webinar from The Manufacturing Institute.

Recruit Women

When you’re fishing, do you use the same bait for every kind of fish? I certainly hope not! So ask yourself if you’re using the same bait to recruit women workers. Manufacturers have a great opportunity to tap into this talent pool by purposefully inviting women into their workforce; especially now as a disproportionate number of women became displaced workers during COVID-19. If you’re not changing your language when you are inviting women to apply, you’re just wishful fishing.

Have you ever written a job posting that just targets women to apply? Let women know that your wage ranges are well above those of some typically female oriented careers, and they can support their families by working for you. Here’s a crazy idea, offer the opportunity to work on a predominately women’s production line. If you have language-based production lines, appreciate that a female-based line wouldn’t require you to find a bi-lingual manager. This may also reduce some anxiety based on preconceptions about working in manufacturing for women.

Engage Displaced, Unemployed and Underemployed Workers

Displaced, unemployed and underemployed workers make up the last targeted talent pool that you want to make sure you’re targeting for recruiting purposes. At the most foundational level, you must be posting your positions on your state job site. This exposes your posting to displaced workers who may have been retrained in a skill you want.

Next, you need to connect with your regional job center and workforce board to make sure they are aware of who you are and what you need. They are responsible for putting the training together for displaced and unemployed workers. Let them know exactly what you’re looking for so they can train toward it. Consider posting signs in areas underemployed people work, which emphasizes the opportunity to move from a job to a career with you. Many companies do plenty of entry training to get workers started. If your new hires have the values you’re looking for, you can connect them to the educational avenues they will need to advance.

Finally, ask your current employees occupying positions where you need additional workers where they hang out and see if you can post fliers or signs near those locations. People with like hobbies and interest may also share like skills. This works better if your employees like your company culture and would feel comfortable telling their friends about a job opening.

Build Relationships

Sadly, targeting under-recruited talent pools is a short-term fix that is not going to fill your talent gap. There is more work that you need to do if you are going to build your bench and move away from the constant crisis of recruitment. This begins by integrating your talent strategy with your business strategy, and it requires the efforts of leadership and a team willing to engage in some off-site relationship building.

Many companies understand the value of having an ongoing relationship with their area technical college. It’s easy to understand the potential short-term return on investment when connecting with students near graduation. However, have you considered the value of helping to fill those classes by reaching back to the high schools, having employees volunteer with FFA, SkillsUSA or other skilled trade centered groups? How about offering a summer teacher extern program to math, reading or social studies teachers who don’t know or understand the opportunities that exist in your company. They engage with multiples of students every day. What about facility tours for the community, Manufacturing Day participation, internships or apprenticeships? All of these opportunities enhance both company and industry perception, give parents, students and community members the opportunity to see and learn about manufacturing – most notably how it’s changed and the great career opportunities it offers.

Beyond just connecting with your community as an individual company, there lays a greater opportunity to intertwine business strategy, talent strategy, training strategy and community strategy by joining a regional initiative. When key stakeholders in a community, like business owners, education, government and city leaders join forces and agree to common goals, powerful change can take place. These types of initiatives are springing up across the nation, where business leaders have the vision to see beyond their own companies and bring their expertise, connections, resources and wisdom together to shape their community’s future.

Be Strategic

If your company is living “crisis recruitment” today, take a moment to consider how things might have been different if you would have included talent strategy in your business strategy over the past 10 years.

Consider where you would be if you had built your brand awareness, worked to influence community perception about the jobs you have to offer, and addressed the misperceptions of parents and teachers when influencing youth (so those students would have felt great about registering for technical college). Then consider what will your talent position be in another 10 years if you don’t include this work into your business strategy now.

If you think that someone else is going to come along and fill that talent bench for you, think again. There are many businesses outside of our industry who do not need to be convinced to see the value of making these early community connections, and they are already competing with you for tomorrow’s workers.

Learn More

As part of its ongoing efforts to inspire members and association partners in developing strategies to build a bigger, better workforce, AEM is pleased to offers its second-annual Workforce Solutions Virtual Summit.

For more support, ideas or information, get started by visiting the Workforce Solutions Toolkit or contact AEM’s Julie Davis at

For more perspectives from AEM staff, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor