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Recruiting Manufacturing Engineers in a Competitive Market

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By Tonya Hendley, Senior Executive Search Consultant

While recruiting the right candidate for the right role can be difficult, hiring managers often find that filling manufacturing engineering positions can be a particularly daunting proposition. Research conducted by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute just last year found that the industry will need to add 4.6 million jobs, and that 2.4 million of those positions may go unfilled. Among the challenges companies are facing:

  • Engineers are passive candidates who require an active recruitment outreach.
  • The skillsets that engineers are expected to possess have changed.
  • Companies are having to redefine expectations as tenured engineers exit and a new generation of engineers enters the workforce.


The Passive Engineer

Unlike other professionals, engineers aren’t always behind a desk. A significant portion of an engineer’s time can be spent in the field, on the floor of a manufacturing plant, or on a client project site. As a result, desktop access to LinkedIn is limited, and accounts can go unchecked for days, weeks or neglected entirely. This factor is compounded by the fact that many engineers perceive that maintaining a LinkedIn profile indicates disloyalty to a current employer and unsatisfaction with a current role. This is especially true among more senior engineers who have the experience and skill companies are seeking.

Active Recruitment

Reaching this population, therefore, requires that recruiters engage in an active search approach. This includes, not only seeking out professional organizations, but also connecting with engineering professionals and asking for individual referrals. At FGP, our recruiters spend a significant portion of their day building relationships that, in turn, lead to a network of strong candidates.

Successfully recruiting the right engineer also requires a “boots on the ground” perspective. In my role as a professional recruiter, I make it a point to visit the site where a candidate will be working. This allows me to provide firsthand insights into challenges and opportunities, future colleagues, and the inner workings of the department or organization. Engineers are detail oriented, and the more information a recruiter can provide, the better the chances are of finding the right candidate.

Changing Expectations

While the functions of industrial engineers have become more specialized, the required skillset for their roles has expanded. Companies increasingly expect their engineers to interact directly with customers, in essence, taking on the role of “account executive.” Today’s manufacturing engineer must possess “soft skills” in addition to hands-on technical skills. Finding candidates who possess both skillsets and are willing to leave their current position is a time-consuming endeavor. Working with a professional recruiter who has an existing network of referrals can significantly streamline this process.

Sticker Shock

Filling vacancies left by more senior professionals can present an additional challenge – compensation “sticker shock.” There can be a wide gap between how long-term employees have been compensated and what outside jobseekers are expecting in today’s market. Companies often find that they must adjust their pay structure in order to attract qualified, experienced professionals. I recommend that my corporate clients perform regular compensation evaluations – whether they’re hiring or not – to ensure that they remain in line with the industry.

One Job vs. Two Jobs

Companies are also surprised to learn it may take two people to fill a vacancy left by one veteran employee. Not only are employers unable to find candidates who meet all the qualifications for the role, but organizations have also had to adjust to a different set of employee priorities as Millennials join the workforce. While Gen Xers may have been willing to put in the extra hours necessary to perform two jobs, the younger workforce holds strong beliefs about the value of work/life balance, which they expect their employers to share.

Preparing for the future

The Society of Human Resource Management reports that 27% of manufacturing workers will retire over the next ten years, which will lead to a loss of specialized skills and knowledge. One of the answers to this challenge lies in the development of formal succession plans. We encourage our clients to develop programs that foster the active mentorship of younger staff by experienced colleagues. In addition to helping ensure knowledge transfer, these programs can also help identify two-person vs. one-person roles. This long-term perspective is often neglected in favor of a focus on day-to-day operations and output, but it is an important aspect of maintaining a company’s ability to continue to meet its clients’ demands.

As the manufacturing industry continues to grow, the need for talent will remain strong. Using strategic, proven talent acquisition processes will help companies succeed in an increasingly competitive environment.