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In Manufacturing, Hoarding Labor Is a Good Thing, Actually

Three multiracial workers in factory,
Credit: iStock/kali9

I was listening to a recent NPR podcast where they brought up a term that was new to me: labor hoarding. And while the term generally has a negative connotation — meaning, you’re paying to keep talent that isn’t necessarily fully utilized — I think in modern manufacturing it’s critical. When nearly 80% of employers say it’s hard to fill roles — a 17 year high! — companies better think twice before laying off any team members unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

But there’s more to the story than just collecting people. Your company needs not just to acquire talent but actively keep it. In an era where skilled labor is harder and harder to find, manufacturers must transform into “employers of choice” to retain their valuable human assets. But how does a manufacturing company earn this title? 

Without further ado, here are five steps to become a proficient labor hoarder:

1. Create a learning culture

First, consider developing a robust learning culture. In a learning culture, employees are encouraged to continuously develop their skills through upskilling and reskilling. I’ve written previously about how this works for different populations, such as youth apprenticeships, as well as in different industries such as shipbuilding. Offering opportunities for growth not only helps your workforce stay ahead of technological advancements but also makes your employees feel valued.

2. Flexible work arrangements

Next, flexibility is key. By this I mean offering flexible work arrangements. Given the changing dynamics of work-life balance, providing options such as remote work, flexible hours, or compressed work weeks can be as attractive to a prospective employee as a rare, mint-condition action figure is to a collector.

3. Competitive compensation and benefits

Competitive compensation and benefits are the cornerstones of being an employer of choice. Ensuring your employees are well-compensated and have access to comprehensive benefits is fundamental. After all, a well-fed and well-cared-for workforce is going to be more productive and able to focus while at work. And if you haven’t considered employee ownership as a unique and powerful way to keep your people, you really should educate yourself about it here.

4. Promoting a positive work environment

A positive work environment is also crucial. It should foster a sense of community and belonging. Encourage collaboration, celebrate achievements, and ensure that every team member feels a sense of belonging. The Job Quality Assessment is a great way to evaluate if you’ve created a positive work environment that will keep employees engaged.

5. Commitment to sustainability, inclusion, and social responsibility

Lastly, a commitment to sustainability, inclusion, and social responsibility can set you apart. Let’s make inclusive excellence as key to manufacturing as operational excellence. In a world increasingly conscious of its environmental footprint, showcasing your company’s commitment to cutting-edge practices can attract talent.

In conclusion, becoming an employer of choice in the manufacturing sector isn’t about hoarding talent in the traditional sense. It’s about creating an environment where employees feel treasured and cared for. This isn’t easy – but taking steps to work towards this goal will payoff. 

By focusing on continuous learning, flexibility, competitive compensation, a positive work environment, and sustainability, you can successfully “hoard” the best talent, keeping your manufacturing operations running smoothly.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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