Many employers continue to have a difficult time hiring in this red-hot labor market. Across industries, the supply of available skilled workers is not enough to fulfill the demands of many employers.
But some companies are getting creative to fill jobs and keep their businesses moving forward.
Consider Peachtree City-based NAECO, which manufactures small yet critical parts for a range of industries that includes aerospace, medical, power management, and transportation.
Given the pressures of the current job market, the company – which has about 40 employees – has been trying new tactics to recruit, train, retrain, and retain employees with sought-after mechanical skills. They’ve expanded their recruitment territory, are offering cash bonuses to employees who successfully refer applicants, and have enhanced their benefits package to be more competitive. NAECO has also participated in several federally funded workforce programs offered by WorkSource Atlanta Regional, which is run by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“It is a job seeker’s market right now,” said Laura Geiger, NAECO’s human resources manager. “We’ve got to get a little creative in how we’re going to attract and recruit qualified talent to fill our job openings.”
We talked with Geiger to understand how the company is navigating its hiring and staffing challenges.
What skills are you looking for in potential new hires?
We are looking mostly to hire CNC machinists. CNC stands for “computer numerical control,” and it refers to high-tech machines used to manufacture parts for many industries. Machinists program computer-controlled machines to create a new product out of raw material, in our case, metal, that is loaded into the machine. The material has to be cut in a certain way to create a product according to detailed customer designs. The parts have to be absolutely precise because they go into airplanes and medical devices.
There are different levels of machinists, from an operator who loads the materials into the machine to a CNC machinist who requires more skills to set up the machine to cut materials a certain way, and then comes the lead, which requires software programming.
We prefer to hire workers with a diploma or a two-year degree from a technical school with a few years of machining experience. Lately, it’s very difficult to find CNC machinists. There’s turnover right now because there are so many jobs available, and these folks are in demand. There has been a decline in the number of young adults enrolling in trade schools over the years. The trade schools I have talked to tell me that as soon as machinists graduate, they have jobs.
The CNC machinist position has always been a challenge to fill, but in these times, it’s even more difficult. We are a small company and have needed people to come in and hit the ground running. I have three open machinist positions right now.
Why are some workers leaving?
Early in the pandemic, a local employer offered early retirement to workers. Now this employer has positions to fill, and they’re hiring machinists at a high rate of pay that we can’t compete with. Being a small employer, that had an impact on us that we are still feeling. Others have left for the opportunity to work remotely, more money, or moving out of the area.
As far as the applicant market goes, the pandemic has changed how people look at work prospects. Some people are hesitant to return to work until they are vaccinated, or until their children will consistently be back in school full time. People are also choosing to work remotely, or choosing work-life balance options, or want flexibility, or want to try a new career. This has had an impact on the number of applicants out there.
What are some ways in which you are getting creative to hire staff with technical skills and meet your customers’ needs?
In the past we’d put our openings on one particular job search site, and we got applicants, and we were able to fill our jobs. Now, I’m receiving significantly fewer applicants and very few have the level of skills we are seeking. I am now using a few job search sites, newspaper webpages in surrounding cities, such as LaGrange, Newnan, and Griffin, social media, posting jobs through WorkSource Atlanta Regional , and trade school advertising.
We are now focusing on other markets beyond metro Atlanta and Georgia, and we’ll offer relocation assistance. We know there’s been machinists laid off in Charlotte and Boston, so we are pinpointing those cities. We are really broadening the horizons for our advertising reach. We’ve had to be flexible in our job offers, including incentives and relocation assistance to hire qualified talent without compromising our standards.
We have also started looking at internal candidates, for example, training machinists on a new machine, promoting from within and offering training, also offering outside training to learn new skills.
What do job seekers find attractive about working at NAECO?
In manufacturing, the employees work four 10-hour days from Monday – Thursday. They like the idea of having a three-day weekend every week. This helps promote a work-life balance. Overtime work is almost always available on Fridays, and employees like that it is optional and not mandatory.
Also, there are opportunities for advancement, especially now. Entry-level technicians can move into different functions.
ARC, through its WorkSource Atlanta Regional, has federal dollars that companies such as NAECO can use to train and hire employees. How have these funds helped you with staffing during the pandemic?
Through the Incumbent Worker Training (IWT) program, we can train current employees on new skills. This program offers up to $25,000 reimbursement per year to train employees who have been employed by us for at least 6 months. This program is very beneficial for a small business to advance employee skills in order to continue to grow and remain competitive in the market.
We recently put our managers through a 40-hour training program on cultural transformation and leadership development. This training has been instrumental for our company and has made us a better team in working together to achieve our goals and adapting to the new COVID-era challenges.
The next training class will be to train CNC machinists on programming software, which will potentially result in a promotion. This puts our company in a good position to better handle our growing orders. The IWT program is a great benefit that ARC offers.
We have also taken advantage of the WorkSource’s OJT (on-the-job) training program, where a portion of a new employee’s wages are reimbursed to our company over a certain period of training time when we hire applicants who are unemployed, under-employed, or displaced and qualify for the program. This helps in getting people back to work in the community and learn new skills.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into this industry?
If a person is mechanically inclined and enjoys using their hands to work, they may be interested in running these machines. I highly advise them to look into a diploma program or get an associate degree at a trade school or college. They can call and visit the school and talk to someone in admissions to get feel for the program and job prospects in the CNC machinist field before deciding. Many of these programs offer apprenticeships with companies so the student gets on the job experience while attending school. This makes them more marketable.
Young people out of high school who are not college-bound may be interested in the trades. There’s a big need for that, and the pay and job security are better than many college graduates. Also, candidates can post their resumes on job sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Glass Door.
How was your company able to navigate through the last 21 months and stay open?
We are a business with a diverse product line. When planes weren’t flying during the pandemic, we were still manufacturing critical parts for other industries, and we didn’t close our doors. We also put in place COVID safety protocols to keep our employees safe and less at risk for coming in contact with the virus.
How is the current supply-chain crisis impacting your business?
Supply chain issues are affecting companies everywhere and we are no exception. Not receiving materials on time negatively impacts our on-time delivery to our customers since manufacturing those products get delayed as a result. On-time delivery is a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) that we strive to meet consistently, so the supply chain issues have been a tough one for us.
What does 2022 look like?
Our company was growing very quickly before the pandemic. We are back to that, as orders are growing, and we anticipate that will continue.
To learn more about ARC’s services connecting job seekers with employers, visit the WorkSource Georgia website at atlworks.org.
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