by Alessia Leibert

Manufacturers face unprecedented challenges in filling skilled production positions, including competition from other firms, declining interest in manufacturing careers among young people, unattractive firm locations and work shifts, uncompetitive wages, and skills gaps. Minnesota employers are investing in solutions to remove some of these barriers, but hiring difficulties persist.

welderIn spring 2013, two-thirds of the state’s production vacancies were deemed “difficult-to-fill” by employers. Hiring difficulties are not synonymous with skills gaps. When employers were asked to identify the causes of their hiring difficulties, only 14 percent of cases were attributed exclusively to the lack of skilled applicants for current vacancies. One in four jobs were difficult to fill due to demand conditions, such as undesirable geographic location, uncompetitive wages and inconvenient work shifts, which were cited as reasons why employers did not find skilled workers. About 28 percent of the hiring difficulties cited by employers were attributed exclusively to candidates’ lack of work ethic or interest in a manufacturing career. Lack of work ethic and motivation are not skills gaps, but they can make a candidate unattractive in a setting where everyone is expected to arrive on time and work as a team. Finally, the majority of hiring difficulties (31 percent) were caused by a mix of skills mismatches and other reasons.

Some other key findings:

  • Machinist jobs were the hardest positions to fill, followed by machine tool operators and welders.
  • Central Minnesota had the highest incidence of hiring difficulties; 90 percent of production jobs in the region were difficult to fill. Southwest (81 percent) and Southeast (71 percent) also had high percentages of difficult-to-fill positions.
  • Turnover is one reason for persistent hiring difficulties: 84 percent of production vacancies experienced turnover during the last two years for reasons unrelated to retirements or internal job transfers.
  • Another problem employers cited was not enough applicants: 70 percent of hard-to-fill positions attracted fewer than 10 applicants. Employers said low supply is a result of declining interest in skilled production as a career track.
  • Hiring difficulties were only temporary. In fact, 68 percent of hard-to-fill positions were filled within four months of the posting date.

Employers responded to hiring difficulties in a variety of ways. The most popular response was to change advertising or recruiting methods, which is low cost and effective in the short term. A large share of firms (40 percent) increased training for new hires. This training took the form of structured on-the-job training and tuition reimbursement or paid classroom training. It’s clear that employers value post-secondary training, both to upgrade the skills of their workers and to attract candidates who otherwise could not afford to earn a degree.