Most kids probably won't say that they dream of working as a machinist, salesman, or engineer. Manufacturing is a stereotypically slow moving, gritty industry that does not attract young talent easily. Today's young workers want to work for businesses that tell a story and stand for more than simply turning a profit. My name is Paul Kocsis, and this is how my family's manufacturing company has begun catering to the next generation of young professionals.
I arrived at my family's fluid power company, Kocsis Technologies, two years ago fresh out of college. In the first couple of months, I noticed a trend in many customers that I encountered. The employee demographic could be described as middle-aged men who had worked in fluid power for nearly their whole lives and who were not willing to waiver from the status quo. "Change" seemed to be a curse word in the industry.
Kocsis itself was not immune to the stubbornness that plagued our customers. Our company had sold the same product lines for the past twenty years. We were understaffed, struggled to find talent, and portrayed a negative culture. It was time to breakout the worst word of them all: "Change."
Step number one in overhauling the talent outlook at our firm was completely reversing the culture. Negativity would not be tolerated. Instead, accountability was to become the framework for what we do. Around the office, I began to hear people say, "Own your work", "Communicate clearly," and "Stay positive." This was a step in the right direction.
Next, we began hiring young engineering talent while balancing it out with experienced, open minded salesmen. In that first year, we doubled our engineering team, hired an additional sales asset, and brought on a few new production employees fresh out of school. Additionally, we attended our first engineering career fair at Valparaiso University in order to look for interns for the summer. A talent pipeline is key to innovation. Bringing in new faces brings different perspectives leading to innovative ideas and products.
The foundation was set for talent acquisition, but we also needed to think about talent retention and growth.
Employees want to work for purpose driven organizations that offer opportunities for professional growth. New employees need to learn to take accountability and "buy in" to the organization as a whole. In order to do this, we implemented different forms of continuing education. For example, each year we send a few new employees to trade shows in order to learn more about the industries that we work in. Also, a few times each year experienced employees will teach a small class of new employees about a topic of their choice.
We give fresh talent quite a bit of responsibility and put them in customer facing situations as often as possible. People simply will not grow if they are not pushed out of their comfort zone.
Last but not least on our journey of talent development, we needed to brand ourselves.
Branding is the most noticeable weakness in manufacturing. Young professionals want to work for tech companies because they tell a story and have sleek, attractive marketing.
Therefore, we hired a strategic growth consultancy to help us freshen up our brand. Our whole company participated in different exercises to formulate our company's "story," so we can be more purpose driven. For Kocsis, our brand revolves around family, quality, and innovation as these are our three core values. Although the process is not complete, many employees have expressed their excitement regarding the project.
Talent acquisition is a competition, and manufacturing is a bit behind. In such a competitive labor market, companies need to develop brands that stand for something greater than making a profit instead of fashioning themselves as old, stodgy businesses that need workers. At Kocsis, we have overhauled our culture, focused on hiring new talent, formulated talent development programs, and are working on rebranding ourselves. The goal of manufacturers should be to not let the label "Made in America" die. Tell a story, embrace change, and make manufacturing cool again.
• Paul Kocsis is business development manager for Kocsis Technologies, Inc. in Alsip.