Finding skilled labor

By Jeff Messer, President, Messer Truck Equipment  (Westbrook, Maine)

This article was published in the June 2015 edition of NTEA News

As economic growth continues and new truck sales increase, it’s becoming more important to address an ongoing issue faced by companies in the work truck industry: employee recruitment. With industry demand running high, many businesses need more employees — skilled mechanics, fabricators and installers — to handle the workload.

The lack of qualified workers could stem from many outlets, including students being encouraged to get four-year degrees instead of learning a trade, preferences for computer-related jobs as compared to working in a shop or the perception that one can’t make a good living as a mechanic. Although various factors contribute to the shortage,there is not a simple solution.

In recent years, I have worked through this issue in my own company. The average age of our shop technicians is almost 48 years old, and several employees have recently retired. A retirement not only results in one less worker on the shop floor but also creates an information void with the loss of “tribal knowledge.” In addition, some technicians have left due to enticing offers from competitors or companies in related industries. Although higher wage is a key incentive, robust benefits or lucrative pensions can influence the decision to leave. As the job market grows tighter, employment opportunities will likely become even more competitive.

After losing an employee, the logical next step is to find another technician. However, where should you start your search? Online job boards, Craigslist, friends of employees, vocational schools, job fairs? Both pros and cons are associated with each of these options, as some channels require more resources than others. A solid vetting process by your company is essential to getting results. Once you’ve selected a qualified worker, the orientation process is key to helping the new employee adapt to the company culture.

To reverse the skilled labor shortage, companies can also develop an internal solution. One option is to groom current employees for management positions, which requires companies to identify candidates with effective communication, leadership and people skills as opposed to the usual barometer of mechanical skills. The right candidate can then start a path of consistent training (both in a classroom setting and on-the-job), with clear objectives and pay scale expectations. This process should produce engaged employees who provide value to the team. This apprenticeship model is currently building skilled labor in the work truck industry’s European market. Although it requires a significant upfront investment of time and money, it is a strong, viable option.

In recognition of this prevalent industry issue, NTEA incorporated numerous sessions on recruiting and retaining qualified employees into The Work Truck Show® 2015 educational program. Courses addressed strategies for sourcing local staff and cultivating an appealing work environment, including offering competitive compensation and benefits packages. Presentations on employee development, assessment and communication helped attendees gain ideas for their companies. Educational planning for the 2016 event is underway, and more information will be shared in the coming months.

While there are numerous options for addressing your employment needs, no turn-key solution exists. Ultimately, companies need to determine what works best for their operations and how much they want to invest in the process.

Note: For resources available from NTEA, please visit the Career Center.