Just like a welterweight boxer taking on a heavyweight, it can feel like a colossal challenge for mid-sized industrial companies to compete against large competitors. Large companies have “economies of scale” that enable them to price products below their smaller competition, they have the capital to buy expensive equipment that increases worker productivity further reducing their cost of labor, and they have deep sales networks and powerful brand recognition that give them a boost selling their products.
Similar advantages extend to large companies in the fight to attract high-value skilled tradesmen to their businesses. A large company tends to have greater brand recognition in the labor market, which means that tradesmen are more likely to head directly to that company’s hiring website or be more willing to apply to jobs offered by that company online. A large company tends to have a bigger job marketing budget to make job opportunities more easily accessible to job-seeking tradesmen. A large company often has dedicated recruiters who can move quickly reviewing submitted applications and go after high-quality talent aggressively. A large company is often able to sponsor local trades schools in exchange for direct access to talent and fund training programs internally so they can “train-up” less-experienced workers.
So how is a mid-sized (or even small-sized) industrial company supposed to compete?
You came to the right place, because the majority of our clients fit into this “medium-sized industrial company” category and it is our job to help them to win their fight for top talent every day. Here are some of our top tips on how to make your medium-sized business a serious contender for top trades talent.
Take a look at your pay levels and current benefits. Pay is one of those things that can often go unchecked as management gets busy and time passes. You can quickly become less competitive compared to other businesses out there if you allow your wages to sink versus the competition. We typically share with clients that it is not necessary to raise your wages above the competition. Rather, it’s more important to be around the average. Of course, there are consulting firms that can help you assess competitive wages in the market, but more realistically the best approach is to just ask around. Here’s a tip: by talking to a tradesmen recruiter, who is seeing the full range of wages across the hiring market, you may be able to get a better sense of current wage ranges across various positions and experience levels.
According to our most recent recruiter survey, benefits are the #1 reason tradesmen are leaving their current employers. Coming off a decade-long conversation about health benefits in the form of “Obamacare,” employees are now viewing the absence of health benefits as a clear sign that an employer is not ready to take care of its people for the long-term. We are not only seeing the largest number of tradesmen in play because of a lack of benefits, but few expert tradesmen are willing to consider opportunities from employers without benefits. While there are companies out there that are willing to pay 100% of an employee’s monthly premiums (a major attraction to talent), it is certainly not the norm. Benefits range from all premiums being covered to practically none. It’s really up to you as an employer to decide what you can afford and what you need to offer to attract great-quality talent. Be aware that the big movement is towards tradesmen studying and understanding the value of benefits versus ignoring them and only focusing on wages. Tradesmen focused on wages only are generally a thing of the past.
Company culture is one of those often-ignored factors in attracting great talent. Each company has a unique feel to it. What is yours? You may focus on excellence. You may have a great family feel or amazing teams. Many companies have these “differentiators” dialed in, while others haven’t even given a thought. No matter whether you are aware of your culture, you have one. So if you are not sure what it is, go out and ask your five best employees what they love about your company, then ask the next five people who quit why they are leaving, and the combination of those two messages is likely to say a lot about your culture.
The key to powerful talent-attracting culture is not to just have a culture, but to embrace it and nurture it. If you have a “family-feel” culture, it makes sense to have company barbecues and invite the families of your employees to get to know each other and mingle. If you focus on professionalism and excellence, it makes sense to celebrate employees who exemplify those qualities and throw a party for an excellence award your company has earned. Remember, don’t try to be everything to everyone. People will start to think you stand for nothing. The key is to get proud of who you are and be bold about your culture. Your employees will love it and top tradesmen who you recruit will feel it instantly the moment they walk in the door. If they are a fit for that culture, they will be sold in a second. If they are not a fit, let them go. You don’t want them anyway.
In terms of culture, medium-sized companies actually have a big advantage over large-sized companies. Large companies can ignore culture and can become “too corporate” or lose track of the individuals within their teams. Many large company employees can see limited long-term opportunities, because there are too many employees above them, or they can’t foresee getting off the night shift until ten years from now. Medium-sized companies tend to have closer relationships with their employees, which helps them feel valued. Medium-sized companies are also often just as financially stable as large companies, and, in fact, tend to protect their employees more in a downturn than large companies. Be sure to sell those positive qualities to candidates!
The next step towards attracting great tradesmen away from the large-sized companies is to put all of that company culture stuff we just talked about into a giant upper-cut to your competition and blast it into the community. What does that mean? Get the word out! Ask your top employees, whether they know anyone that could be a good fit for your company. Consider whether you might want to offer a referral bonus (which is sometimes not even necessary). Ask all your top employees to write reviews about your company on sites such as Google, Indeed or Glassdoor — all places where tradesmen talent can go to learn about the reputation of a company.
Another way to get the word out to tradesmen is to get involved in the community. Whatever you decide on, these activities are likely to fit your culture and employees will feel rewarded to be able to do them. Picture thirty of your employees all wearing company shirts and helping to build a house for a low-income community. Your marketing team or team member can capture some great photos of the event and put them up on your website. A tradesmen candidate is likely to look at your website and see that your company cares about the community (versus just making a buck). You could post an article about the event with photos on Linkedin, where there are more tradesmen every day. With a little creative effort, a local paper might pick up the story and further increase the reach of your message. Before you know it, there will be an added buzz around your company, attracting more and more tradesmen to apply to your open positions.
Many employers — big or small — have adopted an inflexible mindset when it comes to training employees. Some feel burnt from training employees in the past and then having them leave them for another company or they just don’t know how. The work that employees do these days for industrial businesses is so specialized that employers are likely to have to train people to some extent. The ability of an employer to provide more extensive training is a significant advantage in the fight for top talent. Not only do tradesmen value the opportunity to learn new and valuable skills, but it also means that the employer can consider a wider range of candidates, who do not have the “exact” skill this moment, but will be trained — over several weeks or months — to do the job.
This may sound like a lot of work, but we assure you that there is a massive difference from the perspective of job-seeking tradesmen between a company that is willing to invest in its people and a company that is not. Some analysts believe that much of our “skilled labor shortage” is due to a breakdown in the relationship between employers and employees since the 1980’s (due to layoffs, automation and outsourcing). It’s up to each of us as industrial employers to do our part to rebuild that relationship.
While we hate to sound self-serving, our company, Xemplar, is one of the best “secret weapons” a medium-sized business can have in their corner to attract top tradesmen. In the markets where we offer our services, we provide a distinct advantage to our clients by pairing the expertise of our tradesmen recruiters with a highly-effective strategic marketing platform. The result is that our recruiters are able to source top tradesmen and then match them accurately with the right opportunities.
Our service is now exceeding an 80% success rate per placement compared to less than 25% for traditional staffing services. The fact that all of our openings are long-term placement and direct hire means that we have superior opportunities that accomplished tradesmen are willing to consider (enabling us to access a higher-quality talent pool) versus “temp” positions being offered by staffing companies. These innovations and our unique tradesmen recruiting model are enabling our medium-sized industrial clients to beat the “skilled labor shortage” and access a recruiting option that is more effective AND more cost-effective than any other recruiting or staffing option on the market.
If you think small size means that you are a guaranteed loser, go ahead and throw in the towel right now. For the rest of us, it’s time to get fit and get ready to fight for top tradesmen. Let’s do it!