Strategies for Factory Staffing in a Small Community

December 20, 2023
Written by: Micki Vandeloo

I live in a small farming community in rural Illinois. I know manufacturers in my community who are struggling to find workers, especially skilled workers, to staff their production floor.  And, with a smaller pool of workers to pull from, this can be very challenging. In my recent conversations with manufacturers and workforce development entities such as community colleges and state Job Centers and Workforce Investment Boards, I have found the following strategies to be effective in helping manufacturers in small communities find skilled labor.

Strategy #1: Offer Apprenticeships

I have written about apprenticeships in a couple of previous articles, but they can be particularly effective in recruiting and retaining employees in small communities.  In many cases, local community colleges can provide the Related Technical Instruction (RTI) and a long-term employee can be a mentor and supervise On the Job Training.  Many states offer grants to support development, registration and delivery of Registered Apprenticeship programs and more and more state agencies offer state sponsored apprenticeship programs for various manufacturing careers as well.

Strategy #2: Participate Career Fairs

Companies who have been successful at attracting workers participate in local career fairs.  These are often held in partnership with local high schools or trade schools or with local Job Centers.  Career Fairs offer the opportunity for companies to connect directly with potential workers and have been proven to be effective for attracting workers.

Strategy #3: Get Involved with Local Schools

One underutilized, but effective, strategy for manufacturers in small communities is to get involved with local high school, technical school and community college/trade school programs.  Participation on advisory boards at these schools provides the opportunity for companies to weigh in on curriculum and ensure students obtain the skills they need on their production floor.  By interacting closely with local schools, companies also tend to be “in the know” as graduating students need jobs, providing a hiring advantage.

Strategy #4: Offer Internships 

In order to attract high school, college or trade school students, some rural companies offer summer internships.  These are great tools to help companies vet potential workers and vice versa.  Most manufacturing internships are paid, but the pay scale is typically less than a full-time worker’s earnings.  And, many states offer internship grants to help companies pay for interns.

Strategy #5: Provide Plant Tours Throughout the School Year

Manufacturing Day (in October of each year) is typically a time when companies offer plant tours for students.  However, companies in small communities that attract workers offer more frequent plant tours throughout the year.  Some work with local schools and tailor plant tours to specific subjects being learned.  For example, a welding class at a local high school might tour the welding area of your production floor at the end of the basic welding class.

Strategy #6 Offer Innovative Benefits and Schedules

Many rural workers also work on a family farm or for a local business in addition to their “day job”.  Companies that offer a shift that starts early and ends early (6 am to 2:30 pm for example) allow these employees to go to a second job after work.  One side benefit of employing farm workers that one of my employers enjoyed (and the reason they located in a rural community) is employees that also work in family or local farms tend to have mechanical skills (such as maintenance, hydraulics and welding) that someone straight out of school with no farm experience might not have.

In addition, companies can offer 4 10-hour schedules that start at 5 am.  This allows an early quit time on work days in addition to one day off a week.

Strategy #7: Walk In Interviews

The last strategy that is particularly effective in rural communities is walk in interviews.  A number of manufacturers in recent interviews noted that this tended to be a good source of employees, although many are low skilled and need to be trained.  It is best to offer these on a regular basis (for example Tuesdays from noon to 5 pm).  Try to offer a wide enough time window that people can come in to apply before or after an existing job, or during a lunch hour.

There are many other strategies for attracting workers in small communities, but these were offered by manufacturers who have been successful in finding workers.  For this reason, I give these a little more weight.  Now, use some of these to staff your production floor!

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