4 Keys to Hiring and Retaining Productive Employees

When demand slows in the face of a recession, or even a pandemic, the manufacturing industry still suffers from labor shortages as the number of retirees continues to rise, and there aren’t enough qualified applicants to replace them. According to a study from the Manufacturing Institute, the manufacturing labor shortage will be 2.4 million by 2028. Now more than ever manufacturers need to hire and retain the best employees possible to retain domain knowledge (those things that only the old timers know about the company). In this post, we will discuss four keys to hiring and retaining employees for your manufacturing business.



  • Develop a smooth online application process. Make it easy for candidates to apply at your company. For hourly employees, making your application form available online (as opposed to a downloadable PDF) will save time for applicants and ensure legibility for you. Make your job application as brief as possible, and do not ask for information that is not relevant to the position. For example, standard application forms often ask where the applicant attended high school and even grade school, which may be irrelevant to you.
  • Create an employee referral program. Reward employees for bringing on new team members. Just like your application process, your referral program should be uncomplicated and easy for your employees to understand. Some rewards may include gift cards, raffle entry into a large quarterly gift, a day off or cash bonus. Make sure that you are giving your referrers good feedback so they know what you are looking for in a candidate.
  • Communicate clearly. Consider the multiple ways potential employees like to communicate. Some generations may prefer to receive information by email while others may want to be texted. Ask their preferred method on the job application and communicate accordingly. At the time of application, even if it is an automated reply, thank them for their interest in your company and let them know what the next step is.
  • Use social media. Post your job openings on your social media channels. After all, you are communicating to an audience that has already indicated an interest in your organization. Through your posts, ask your audience to share your job listings, and stress the benefits of being a part of your team.
  • Develop relationships with local schools. Depending on the age and experience level of the employees you need, explore the digital job boards of high schools and colleges in your area. They are free, you will be able to create multiple job postings, and you may end up drawing in some lifelong employees who never imagined a career in manufacturing.


  • Be patient. Resist the temptation to hire a “warm body”. Hiring out of desperation will not typically result in a great long term team member, and you may be starting the hiring process over sooner than you would like.
  • Test them with a phone interview. Send an email and ask them to schedule a phone call with you. See if they take the initiative to promptly set an appointment and call you at the designated time. If they call you ten minutes late, that may indicate that they have a different take on the importance of commitment and timeliness.
  • Check out their online profiles. Look them up on social media. They don’t need to be friend material. You simply want to be sure that they exhibit behavior that doesn’t clash with your core values. 
  • Be prepared to interview. Potential employees should not be the only ones ready for the interview. You also should make a good impression as the best prospects will have other options. Look up some prepared questions and develop some role play situations that are applicable to your shop floor.
  • Pay well. Keep in mind that turnover and training costs can end up costing more than retaining employees, so consider higher pay an investment. Find out what your competitors are paying for similar work and pay better, even if it is only fifty cents per hour.


  • Set clear expectations upfront. While employees must receive your policies in writing, handing them a book of rules and asking them to read it does not constitute training.
  • Be creative with training. Today’s generations have short attention spans and are video watchers, so consider creating short videos. Employees are much more likely to follow rules when they understand why the rules are important and what the consequences might be if they do not follow them.
  • Give them a mentor. The two younger generations in the workforce today, Generation Y and Generation Z both ask a lot of questions and value having mentors. And there is no better way to pass your proprietary knowledge than on-the-job training.


  • Share your mission and values. By sharing the WHY behind your mission and policies, you are empowering your employees to live them daily.
  • Value your team members. Periodically ask team members to create the agenda for team meetings as an alternative to listening to their supervisors reiterating policies and pointing out areas for improvement.
  • Cross train employees and promote from within. Employees who have the opportunity to learn new things stay more engaged than those who are not challenged. In addition to offering promotion opportunities internally, you should also consider offering lateral moves to different areas on a regular basis. Working with a new team allows employees to make new friends at work and develop new skill sets. It also gives department heads flexibility in scheduling vacation and sick day coverage.
  • Reward them. Let employees know how the company is doing in terms of reaching its goals, and create contests. Rewards do not have to be money. They can be movie passes, restaurant gift cards, etc. You might also consider creating a system to acknowledge and celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones.
  • Remember that it is not all about money. Get creative with perks, like free snacks, periodic team breakfasts or lunches, and unexpected early release days.

Hopefully you have found some nuggets of advice here that you can implement in your organization. In addition to hiring and retaining productive employees, you can improve your labor productivity with real-time, actionable insights from Shop Floor IQ. Check out our shop floor management platform, and contact us if you’d like to learn how we can help your shop floor be more productive.

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