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Bold Responses to the Skills Shortages

Doug Kurkul

Recently, we have spoken with many metalcasting leaders about their workforce challenges. At many foundries, it remains difficult to attract and retain reliable workers across a swath of job descriptions, especially with unemployment near record lows. This trend even extends to foundries in Europe and Asia.

In the spirit of free enterprise, however, foundry leaders are not just sitting back and complaining. Many are experimenting with a variety of responses.  This month’s column shares some of those approaches for your consideration.

Some foundries are going beyond job fairs by establishing partnerships with community colleges and workforce development agencies to establish earlier contact with potential employees, before they are in the job market.

A second approach is to embrace social media and community involvement. Many manufacturers through the years have kept low profiles, but those days may be ending. Polishing a positive image or brand in the community can help a foundry to be thought of as an employer of choice. At the Foundry Leadership Summit (FLS) on Sept. 23 in Traverse City, Michigan, Sara Timm of Waupaca Foundry will speak on the topic of “Building Your Foundry’s Brand as a Great Place to Work.”

doug quoteThe FLS will also have a panel discussion on using alternative approaches to employee benefits as a business strategy. We hope to see you in Traverse City.

Foundries are also exploring alternative sources of employees. Establishing minivan routes can help attract workers from a broader geographic area. Some foundries are accessing workers from local prisons and drug-rehabilitation centers via special agreements. Others ask their employees to refer friends and relatives. Generous referral bonuses and signing bonuses can be effective if there is a long enough in-position requirement in place.

When a candidate interviews, the consulting firm PSI recommends assessing a candidate’s ability to learn, rather than just what they already know. There are a number of instruments that can help HR managers make such assessments.  

Once employees are in place, help your more promising employees know they are appreciated through frequent feedback, recognition for individual and team success, scheduling flexibility or bonuses, say some foundry representatives. Assign mentors or explain potential careers paths where appropriate. Suggest they join AFS Future Leaders in Metalcasting. Providing professional foundry training is another tremendous way to suggest a future with the company. The AFS Institute has trained more than 89,000 people in metalcasting excellence, and offers nearly 40 courses at locations around the country. Most courses can be customized and offered in your own plant for a lower cost than you might expect. Contact Clarence Trowbridge at 800-537-4237 for details.  

Investing in technology is another sound option. There are certain positions that will always be difficult to staff. One foundry president told me that from 2018-2019, his company invested in technology that will mechanize nearly all of those least-popular processes. Some foundries are investing in cobots, computer programmed devices designed to work alongside and assist an employee, as opposed to a robot which is often isolated from human contact. According to the Robotics Industry Association, cobots will expand their market share from 3% of robot sales today to more than one-third of robot sales within just six years.

One final piece of advice from many foundry leaders: Keep planting the seeds for future workers. Support your AFS chapter when it holds a Student Night. Assist with Foundry-in-a-Box demonstrations. Invest in FEF. Make sure that your local career counselors, tech-ed teachers, and community college contacts have the link to the new AFS Metalcasting Careers Video which is easily found on YouTube. Drop off copies of Melting Point, the AFS magazine for students, at your local schools. Open your facility for Manufacturing Day.  In other words, keep planting those seeds, since we never know which will be most impactful down the road.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the August 2019 issue of Modern Casting.