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Skills shortage drives creative recruiting

February 28th, 2019

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Ottenweller Co. recently decided it was time to move beyond conventional online and print advertising to compete for machinist and welding talent with the base wage it offers.

So, the Fort Wayne-based steel fabricator substantially increased the shift differential it pays for working evenings and nights, and added a billboard to the mix of media it uses to share that information with potential employees.

The Goshen Road billboard is designed to turn heads with an offer of an additional $1 to $4 hourly for working on Ottenweller’s second or third shifts, “depending on the position they qualify for,” said Terry Hanson, human resources manager.

“The shift premiums we’ve seen in the market are typically 50 cents (hourly) across the board,” he said. “We took a pretty significant step to make the shift premium very attractive.

“We put the billboard up there and it looks very nice. We have had some traffic that has come our way because they have seen that — not as much as the online traffic, but they do look at it and take note.”

Ottenweller employs 180 and is looking to hire an additional 15 workers to fully staff its second and third shifts, Hanson said. The base wage it offers ranges from $12 an hour for entry-level workers up to $17 an hour for highly skilled, experienced workers in some of its divisions.

The latest Indiana Department of Workforce Development Labor Force Estimates data, released Jan. 22, showed Indiana with a December unemployment rate at 3.4 percent, a little lower than the national rate of 3.7 percent.

In northeast Indiana, only Huntington County’s unemployment rate of 3.8 percent was higher than the state’s, and the rate for the rest of the counties was lower. Allen County’s was 3 percent.

A number of workforce shortages have surfaced in the region with unemployment that low, and Lisa Mungovan, owner of Mungovan HR Consulting, said it is not surprising to see employers consider less conventional recruiting approaches under the circumstances.

“If they’re hiring for welders, they’re competing with a lot of other employers in the region who also are hiring welders,” she said. “In manufacturing, welders, CNC operators, and industrial maintenance — those three are occupations with serious shortages.”

Different types of workers are attracted by different types of incentives, and in many cases, “it’s not just the base wage, it’s the total compensation,” Mungovan said.

In addition to a base wage and health plan, she said total compensation includes what kind of overtime pay, vacation time and personal time off an employee can expect as well as any perks.

Adopting human resources policies that can accommodate individual worker needs, creating a company culture and workplace environment employees appreciate, and providing training and other opportunities to improve and broaden skills also can help with recruiting, Mungovan said.

Parents sometimes need to be able to stay home unexpectedly to care for sick kids and older workers may require similar flexibility to care for an ailing or elderly parent at home, she said.

“Some have gone to more creative work schedules; they may hire two people to work a full-time job so they’re not having to worry about elder care and child care and all those things,” Mungovan said.

“It just depends on what that person is looking for; the Millennials like to have time off to enjoy doing things rather than working so much that they feel their life is out of balance,” she said.

“Attracting is one thing, but the retaining takes so much more. That’s the training, the onboarding, all of those things — recognizing people for their contributions,” she said. “Businesses that respect their employees and value their input — there’s no dollar amount you can put on that culture. They retain their employees.”

Partnering with educational institutions that teach the particular skills an employer requires may be a bit of a departure from ordinary recruiting efforts, but could be well worth the time, Mungovan said.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of employers who are willing to train those who do not have all the required skills but are capable of learning and performing the task,” she said.

Ottenweller and Quake Manufacturing are examples of companies in the region taking that approach.

Ottenweller has open positions in its lasers, grinding and paint divisions as well as some of its more advanced divisions, Hanson said. For employees interested in improving their skills, it offers tuition reimbursement and cross-training for positions that are not easy to fill.

“Trying to identify the highest skilled welders and machinists right now is a significant challenge,” he said. Upskilling and promoting experienced workers creates openings for newcomers to the industry, Hanson said, and “that’s part of the reason we are hiring some that don’t have quite the skill or education but have good heads on their shoulders and great references.”

Paul Quake, chief executive officer for Quake Manufacturing, told the Fort Wayne City Council last December that hiring to keep pace with growth required the company to take on workers in need of training, at a cost of time and parts that had to be remade.

“We’ve grown at least 20 percent this year over last year,” he said.

The CNC machining services company was before the council to seek a 7-year phase-in on taxes related to a $1 million investment, which would help it keep pace with increased customer demand.