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How strategic messaging helps manufacturers find quality talent

Digital transformation has changed the job search and application process

Katie Felten - CEO, Strategy House
Katie Felten is CEO and Brand Strategist at Strategy House in Milwaukee and is a strategic partner of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

In a tight labor market, the role of messaging is a high priority for manufacturers trying to attract and retain high quality talent. Many legacy manufacturers have spent decades building their business and have developed loyal employees along the way. However, as most of the manufacturing labor force nears retirement, there’s an immediate need to proactively address the way digital transformation has changed the job search and application process.

Why strategic messaging is important

Oftentimes in manufacturing, few people outside the walls of the company have a complete story of the business’s process and culture. Strategic messaging is a necessary bridge to bring legacy manufacturers into a space where modern talent can find them. Manufacturers, specifically, are behind the wave of digital transformation and have not addressed just how vital it is to transform their culture and share their story.

Without strategic messaging, it becomes nearly impossible to attract modern talent because you’re not showing why they should work for you. Without communicating your company values digitally, it is unlikely that potential employees will put in the effort to learn more about your business before deciding they want to work for a company that loudly and proudly discusses team culture and mission.

The job-seeking journey

A job description tends to be the first things job seekers encounter when searching for employment. This is make-or-break information when deciding whether to take the next step. Is that job description enough to motivate them to continue the process?

If the prospective employee decides to move forward, their next step almost certainly is a visit to the manufacturer’s website. When it comes to manufacturers, it’s not unusual for their websites to be woefully out of date. It may show what the company does, but often doesn’t mention anything about its mission, vision, values or how it takes care of its employees.

The nature of work has changed. No longer does an employee choose a company and stay with them for their entire career. The future workforce is actively seeking employers that value their team, their community and invest in quality workplace culture—and they’re not afraid to seek new work if the business doesn’t follow up with their promises.

Where manufacturers go wrong

Manufacturers often focus so much on filling orders and getting products out the door that they don’t take the time to communicate their culture and remain largely absent from digital space. They may have had a website developed for them years ago but haven’t touched it since and it’s likely no longer representative of the company.

It might not seem interesting to discuss what it takes to make cylinders or auto parts, but if a manufacturer donates a weld cell to a local community college, or hosts a luncheon to celebrate their team, or delivers flowers to a neighboring nursing home, that says a lot about their culture and their people. That’s what manufacturers need to share.

Manufacturers often post jobs and then lament that they aren’t attracting the appropriate applicants. Why? I often suggest that manufacturing leaders perform a Google search to find the answer. Would you work for you, given the information you find in the digital space? If the answer is no, then a revamped strategy is essential.

Manufacturers may feel they are too far behind to make an impression in the digital world, but websites and social media are tools that can be effectively transformed with little, if any, disruption to the overall business. The stories are there to tell and the content can be turned into something provocative for prospective employees.

Where to start

Our work, oftentimes, just comes down to helping manufacturers discover the good and genuine aspects of their culture. That’s the information we use to share their story on a variety of digital platforms. This involves a strategy that may involve extracting the necessary material from a manufacturer’s leadership team in order to effectively provide insight into the company’s culture. Once that is accomplished, digital platforms can be updated and become a much more tactical tool in attracting, and retaining, key talent.

Finding a bigger purpose

The attitudes toward work exhibited by millennials and Generation Z cannot be dismissed. If manufacturers hope to survive the labor crisis, there needs to be a purposeful, seismic shift in company culture. Work is no longer just about survival. Employees aren’t willing to sell their souls for a job. They need a higher purpose and meaning in their work.

Jobs in manufacturing can provide exactly that, but industrial firms need to be better at communicating what they are really about, beyond the products they produce and the processes they use. This process may be uncomfortable, but it’s certainly not impossible. Creating and sharing a culture that young talent can get behind will greatly improve the likelihood of staying ahead of your competitors and cementing your place in the future of modern manufacturing.

Katie Felten is CEO and Brand Strategist at Strategy House in Milwaukee and is a strategic partner of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

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