Last year, we blogged about Labor Day, its history, and what it means to work with purpose. One year later, we’re thinking about workforce development in our community.
As a social impact enterprise committed to creating jobs, upskilling employees, and relocalizing manufacturing, we pay close attention to how employment helps to either solve or exacerbate inequality in our community. According to a Buffalo News article from early last year, Buffalonians remain vulnerable in today’s job market. For example, some remain:
Underskilled – “Nearly 70 percent of the job openings in the region’s target industries, such as advanced manufacturing, are entry level… And that’s where the skills gap is greatest.”
Inactive – “The region’s labor participation rate [dropped] from 63 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014.”
Unemployed or underemployed – “132,000 workers are underemployed.”
How can we (local businesses) address this problem? In our experience, five strategies have proven to be successful:
- 1. Eliminate unnecessary requirements for entry-level manufacturing jobsIn the past, we’ve partnered with our community to promote career opportunities for our unemployed and underserved neighbors. We’ve also advertised and hosted open interviews at our office in downtown Buffalo. Our goal was to open our doors to as many people as possible, and for the most part, it worked. A conscious outcome of this initiative? To install an inclusive and talented workforce capable of lifelong learning at Bak USA. The point here is to be proactive, not reactive—or even worse: inactive.
- 2. Employ creative interview methods to assess technical skills and culture fitAt Bak USA, we consciously design our hiring practices, workforce training, workspace, and culture to break down barriers to entry and support workforce development. To assess an applicant’s technical and (basic) communication skills, we asked them to assemble a simple LEGO “Starfighter” toy using simple instructions.
- 3. Provide on-the-job training (and free ESL classes)Staffed by a workforce with little to no previous experience in manufacturing, we provided (and continue to provide) opportunities for hands-on training, long-term growth, and shared success. Bak USA Manufacturing Manager Karthik Thangavel says it best: “The current technician team’s career plan is focused on improving themselves in the department they are working in. Many technicians have moved one or two levels up (out of five levels) in their career plan. Their title remains the same, but as they improve their skill sets and showcase their talents efficiently, they earn more and continue to progress.”
- 4. Offer starting wages pegged to exceed the MIT Living Wage IndexWe believe that the hiring process shouldn’t keep people out. It should bring people in. That’s why we recruit folks from outside traditional talent pools and pay employees a wage that propels them forward in life. To do so, we subscribe to starting wages that are pegged to exceed the MIT Living Wage Index.
- 5. Develop and communicate achievable and rewarding career paths for employeesThanks to a people-centric production process and an origin story that celebrates the strength of the human spirit, we’ve been able to create meaningful relationships with our workforce. As such, our healthy and happy relationship with employees allows us to share observations, make suggestions, and draw conclusions—as a team. When you make your people a priority, you can work with them to map out a mutually beneficial employee journey that reflects your workers’ interests.
- “The technicians on my team are usually the first to notice when a system or process can be improved…”
- “And since they’re encouraged to share their observations, we’re able to work together to create new solutions…”
- “With the opportunity to offer feedback, your team will feel encouraged participate in conversations that can lead to improvements in operations…”
- “We’re facilitating lifelong learning, bridging the skills gap, and supporting worker satisfaction.” – Matt Malloy, Director of Advanced Manufacturing, Bak USA