A Two-pronged Approach to Staffing Shortages: Practical Advice That Works
By Tim Saddoris, GrandOnyx
Hiring is hard, especially when you’re looking for skilled workers. In 2021, more than half of businesses surveyed said they had difficulty finding qualified workers. A year later, more than three-quarters of companies surveyed said the labor shortage has worsened. With business on the books and the opportunity for more jobs on the horizon, you can’t ignore the need. To overcome your labor challenges, you must do two things: Find good people and figure out how to work with fewer of them.
Let’s start with hiring. If you want to find quality workers, it’s time to change your mindset.
Change How You’re Recruiting: Make Employees Your Customers
In the past, the hiring process centered around applicants selling you on why you should hire them. Today, it’s the opposite. You need to flip the script and let people know what’s in it for them if they work for you. It sounds simple, but it’s a significant shift for many. Consider it in terms of advertising and marketing. If you’re trying to attract customers, you carefully craft a brand image, demonstrate the benefits of your products, and explain how you can be of service — a value proposition. Now think about your potential hires as customers. Explain what your company has to offer and how this job helps them achieve their goals.
See Figure 1 for an example of a job description and how it can be reworked to sell the advantages rather than the requirements:
Change Your Job Descriptions
Stop demanding long lists of qualifications in your job descriptions. They can serve only as checklists for potential job applicants. They go down the list, and when they see they don’t have everything you want, they may never apply — even if they’d be a great job candidate. List only the most essential skills you must have and forget the rest. You can always probe more deeply in the interview process.
Hire To Train
One East Coast fabricator we worked with wanted to find a salesperson with design skills who knew a specific type of software. They got applications, including some strong salespeople and some designers, but nobody had experience with the software. They passed up some potentially great candidates because they were looking for the perfect candidate. Those unicorns rarely exist.
When hiring, think about what you must have in an employee and what you can train. Can you take that high-performing salesperson and teach them how to use the software? In our experience, finding the person with the basic skills you must have, along with the right attitude and cultural fit, and upskilling them is often the best solution.
As Jim Collins put it in his book, Good to Great, companies that went from good to great didn’t focus on where to drive the bus until they first got the right people on the bus. He says, “If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
Use Feeder Positions
In small businesses, a common complaint from workers is that there’s no room for career advancement. Can you take someone already on your team, train them for a higher-level opening and promote them? Large companies create “feeder positions” to help give employees the experience they need to move to the next level. Doing so can let you hire people at an entry level, do some training, and ensure they’re the right fit for the next level. If so, great! Then, you can hire their replacement, which helps with filling that job because you can show how the feeder job can lead to growth opportunities.
Find Workers With Similar Skills
Are there labor pools you can pull from other industries that have some overlap that you may be able to offer a better opportunity? For fabricators, we’ve found a great place to look is in roofing. Roofing is seasonal in most parts of the country. Jobs can be unpredictable, and there may not be any work during the cold, snowy winter months. It’s also rather dangerous. There might be a pool of these laborers looking elsewhere, and roofers have some compatible skills with installers. Most are handy with tools, comfortable dealing with homeowners, and they’re hard workers. As a fabricator, maybe you can offer them a better deal. Compared to roofing, you can provide plenty of hours, year-round work, and a steady paycheck — even a benefits program. And they’ll still get paid if it’s raining!
Recognize What Today’s Employees Want
Today’s workers are also looking for more than just a paycheck. The pandemic changed a lot about how people approach work these days. They want value and satisfaction, and they want purpose. They want to work for an organization they believe in and whose values match theirs. They expect the company they work for to have a strong ethical compass.
At the same time, they also want a company that cares about their employees’ well-being and provides some semblance of a work-life balance. While salary is still one key driver in attracting and retaining quality workers, a purpose-driven organization with an employee-centric culture is an important factor, especially for younger workers.
Raise and Create
Have you ever wondered why some companies have no trouble hiring while others are always trying to fill positions? Often, it’s because of the way they approach the hiring process. Here’s an example: Turnover is huge in the fast-food industry, and despite raising wages, restaurants are struggling to find people willing to do the job.
A manager at one Chick-Fil-A took a different approach than their competitors by moving to three-day, 40-hour workweeks. In an industry that sees, on average, a 144% turnover rate, he went more than nine months without any turnover. For a single job opening, more than 420 people apply.
Meanwhile, his competitors are begging people to work for them and continually raising wages.
Rather than keep increasing pay, look for how the job can be done so one person can accomplish more within the same amount of time. By default, this increases productivity and makes the position more profitable.
Can you create different ways to approach the job to offer flexibility? For example, can you let people work on flexible schedules: three- or four-day workweeks, guaranteed weekends off, or offer bonuses for performance rather than just hourly wages?
Eliminate or Modify Tasks
Look at ways to improve the work, especially if you have roles with high turnover.
Early in my career, I worked at a pudding plant. It was a large facility with plenty of managers and supervisors working with a lot of entry-level people. Everybody loved this one high-level manager, Ron. If he needed something done, people would bend over backward to make it happen.
It turned out that when Ron came aboard, the first thing he did was ask his team what the most arduous task was. Everyone said cleaning interior product contact surfaces without disassembling the food processing tanks. Everybody hated it. It’s a complex job that takes an entire eight-hour shift. Plus, if it’s done wrong, the pudding can become toxic. (No pressure!)
So, Ron picked the best guy and asked him to teach him how to do it. Over the next three weeks, Ron cleaned those tanks every day and discovered several ways to improve the process. In doing so, he gained trust and favor with his team because he was willing to get his hands dirty and make the job easier by eliminating steps.
As a business owner or manager, it’s your job to fix problems. If the problem is that nobody wants to be an installer, it may be because the job is frustrating. So, dig in and do it yourself. You’ll learn the roadblocks firsthand and maybe find a way to streamline processes or improve the job, and you’ll likely earn some appreciation from your crew.
For fabricators, scheduling can be a pain. It isn’t a complicated job, but it can be cumbersome. You’re ready to go on a job, but the sink hasn’t arrived, or the quartz isn’t ready. It can be challenging to keep things moving. If you have a solid system to track your jobs and inventory, is there a reason someone couldn’t handle scheduling from home?
By eliminating the requirement to come into the office, you’re tapping into an entirely different pool of job applicants and providing workers with benefits that don’t really cost you anything. Without having to raise wages, you can increase their take-home pay by eliminating travel time on the road. Think about it: employees might spend $50 to $100 per week on gas — a cost they shoulder just to show up for work. At $18/hour, they have to work 3-5 hours per week just to break even on the gas, and we haven’t even considered wear and tear on their vehicle and maintenance costs. Plus, they lose personal time commuting that they could be spending with their family. Even flexibility one or two days per week can make a big difference in someone’s work-life balance.
Survive With Fewer People
Now let’s talk about the second part of the equation: working with less. Whether we like it or not, we all have to work with fewer people these days, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.
It’s not just about piling tasks on the rest of the staff; that’s a surefire way to burn people out and create turnover. In today’s environment, it’s more about finding efficiencies to make the job easier. Often, you can accomplish this by rethinking your workflow and processes. When you don’t have people available to handle the work, I approach it using ADE, which stands for Automate, Delegate, or Eliminate.
If there’s a portion of a job you can automate, do it as soon as possible. It reduces manual work, increases accuracy, and it frees up your employees to focus on more critical tasks that you can’t automate. The easiest way to do this is through machines or software. Can you delegate some portions of work to others to reduce the burden on certain individuals? Finally, can you eliminate steps or organize work differently to make it more efficient?
Many managers struggle with delegation. Workers today want autonomy and the ability to make decisions without always having to check with the manager. Recently, I had dinner with a business owner who shared his frustrations with his chief operating officer. The COO came highly recommended with a high pedigree and fit the culture, but he just wasn’t making any decisions on his own. It came to a head when his COO asked him what color carpeting he wanted to put in one of the company’s locations. The owner began to wonder: why is he paying this person if he can’t make simple decisions?
The problem, it turned out, wasn’t the COO; it was the owner. He was a micromanager. This micromanagement paralyzed the COO because he needed to get the owner to sign off on every decision or face the wrath of a “wrong” decision.
As an owner or manager, you must be able to delegate nonessential decisions and live with occasional mistakes. Use those mistakes as teachable moments — opportunities to explain to employees how to improve for next time.
The bottom line: It’s time for a change. Hiring isn’t likely to get any easier in 2023. With more skilled workers retiring, it will be critical for owners to find, train and retain replacements while creating efficiencies in the work. You must be willing to rethink how you approach hiring and how the job gets done.
About the Author
Tim Saddoris is the president of Grand Onyx, a firm dedicated to building world-class surface fabricators. Grand Onyx helps companies define operational processes and create road maps to achievements that enable more predictable revenue and stronger margins, and foster legacy businesses that stand the test of time. To learn how Grand Onyx can help with hiring or automating your business, visit www.GrandOnyx.Pro.
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