"People worry about finding engineering talent, but we've got a bunch of them." That's not something I hear very often. These days, it seems I can't visit an industrial company without hearing how difficult it is for them to find the skilled workers they need to grow.
Earlier this week, Lenze Americas celebrated the official opening of a new production facility in Glendale Heights, Ill. They moved some production of motors and gearboxes from their main North American location in Uxbridge, Mass., out to a spot in the Chicago suburbs, closer to the “sweet spot” of the center of their customer universe. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to how difficult it was to find the technical talent.
Gene Wood, director of operations for Lenze Americas, said that the hiring was probably the most difficult thing they had to do in preparation for the opening. Ultimately, he said, they found themselves some great workers with the skills they needed, but it wasn’t easy. He marveled at how many job candidates didn’t even bother to show up for their first interviews (about half of them, all told).
My neighbor across the street, who recently started working for a food packaging machine builder in the Chicago area, struck up a conversation with me the other day about what a hard time they were having finding technical staff (she brought it up, not me, I swear). She said that they’re getting the business, and could really be growing faster, but can’t find enough workers quickly enough.
OK, I thought, maybe here’s somebody I can get a straightforward answer from. So I hit her with my usual questions about the discrepancy we’re seeing between company executives saying they can’t find enough people, and skilled technicians and engineers saying the jobs aren’t out there – at least not for the right pay.
“There’s definitely a disconnect,” she told me, explaining that the company didn’t want to pay nearly as much as the employees thought they should make. She even went on to say that somebody she knows in HR said recently that they might just have to “bite the bullet” and pay what was needed to get the talent.
OK, so back to that original quote. “People worry about finding engineering talent, but we’ve got a bunch of them.” That came from a conversation I had at IMTS earlier this month with Mark Rentschler, marketing manager at Makino, a Japanese machine builder whose U.S. headquarters are in Mason, Ohio. We recently published an OEM Spotlight on them, too.
Rentschler wasn’t bragging about paying high salaries in order to attract talent. We didn’t actually get into that aspect. His point was that Makino has always had a policy to not use third parties for any of its manufacturing or support services. While other companies focus on their core competencies but farm out an increasing amount of the other work, they lay off employees in that process. When it’s time to get them back, the employees are no longer there. Makino found its employees years and years ago, and have held onto them. “We have a very strong applications engineering staff,” Rentschler said.
But that doesn’t mean that the staff is made up of a bunch of old guys who are gearing up to retire. “When you’ve already got your core guys, it makes it easier to find more,” Rentschler noted, pointing around the booth to several of the younger folks who had been trained effectively by the old-timers.
Rentschler was adamant that it all came down to a strategic decision to keep all expertise in-house – whether that’s programming, cutting strategies, or knowing how to best optimize a process. Having a culture that doesn’t undercut the staff numbers to save some dollars means that the staff remains happy and healthy, and new engineers are eager to join.