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Opinion: Attracting employees isn’t a cakewalk

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As unemployment rates continue to drop, companies are having a difficult time finding new talent. I have attended several community workforce development discussions on this topic and the most common strategy is to focus on developing talent to better prepare people to work. This is a good community-minded approach, but for an organization looking to attract talent, it is a slow play.

Maybe the best approach isn’t to focus on finding talent, but rather to focus on creating an organization where talent finds you.

I recently toured two manufacturing facilities located right next to each other in Springfield. Both facilities were in growth mode. While the two facilities made different products, the job environment was very similar. Both required manual laborers willing to work hard and who had an eye for detail. However, as I spoke with management at both facilities, there was a stark difference between the two.

Plant A couldn’t shovel people into the front door fast enough. As we walked through the facility, I observed a group of about 15 people taking a tour. My guide explained they were all temporary employees who would likely be starting the next day. They were bringing in dozens of temps each month and losing a lot them because either they stopped showing up for work or didn’t perform the job adequately. As I walked by the group, one person in the back said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Wow, this job looks like a cakewalk.” Not exactly an encouraging statement from someone joining your workforce.

My observations of people working at Plant A were that they were miserable. Everyone looked rushed and unhappy. Nobody said anything to me or made eye contact with me as I walked by. The managers involved in the tour didn’t interact with the employees on the floor. It was a cold, alien environment. It felt like a temporary job.

Plant B was very different. The nature of the work was similar to Plant A, but the differences were obvious. As we walked by, people took notice and greeted us warmly. The manager knew employees by name and often knew information about their families. When the manager would show us part of the process, it was common for an operator in the area to join the discussion. They were clearly proud of their facility and the work they did.

I commented to my tour guide that I was impressed by how everyone seemed to be so engaged and passionate about their work. I asked if she had trouble finding people like that, and she seemed surprised. She said there was no problem hiring people, and the company had a stack of highly qualified applicants ready to fill new positions as they opened. When I asked how they attracted new qualified candidates, she said they posted the jobs internally and their own employees recruited their friends and family members. She felt confident they would often recommend good people because they knew they might have to work with them on a daily basis.

Later, as I sat in a workforce development roundtable, I noticed that Plant A had sent a representative, but Plant B had not. The manager from Plant A spoke openly about the poor soft skills of the emerging workforce and about poor work ethic. Plant B didn’t need to attend. They had all the talent they needed and more. Let me be clear: A manufacturer in Springfield could recruit all the talent they needed.

In 2017, job seekers have more resources than ever before to find out about their potential employers. Websites like allow workers to anonymously rate their employers. Employees also can leverage social media to hold discussions about what it is really like to work within a company. One manufacturer I talked with recently that was struggling to find good people told me the company’s reputation was as a place where “anybody can get a job.” This type of reputation doesn’t attract the best talent, and it certainly doesn’t establish an expectation of high performance for new employees.

Savvy companies are working to create an organizational culture that attracts the best employees. These cultures are focused on engagement, quality and accountability versus providing an “easy job.” Simply put, employers that work to create meaningful work experiences for their employees are easily attracting new employees.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they offer more pay and benefits. It means having managers who know how to lead, motivate and empower their teams. It means giving employees daily opportunities to work within their strengths. It means allowing your team to find and implement improvements. It also means making more money, experiencing lower turnover, and finding the talent you need to grow your business.

If you are struggling to find talent for your organization, invest in making sure that your organization is a place that would attract good people. You’ll find that the good people are out there and they are ready to work hard.

Don Harkey is the co-founder and chief innovation officer at People Centric Consulting Group in Springfield. He can be reached at


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