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Engineering Resource Recruitment in Small Rural Communities

Creating a pipeline of great candidates

  Don Rowlett

By Don Rowlett
Senior Engineering Manager
Kennametal Inc.
Bedford, PA



In today’s media, not a week goes by without the discussion of the critical engineering shortage occurring in North America.

This phenomenon is definitely evident in companies within small rural communities.

The appeal offered by large cities—multiple entertainment options, a wide range of job opportunities and a variety of cultures—is lacking in small communities.  To be competitive, our managers must be strategically creative in attracting engineering talent. 

Our livelihood depends upon this creativity; the subject surely merits focus. If companies consider engineering recruitment as “strategically” important, a different level of commitment is needed. It means an organization should be taking action all the time, and working this into all aspects of the business. The programs below are examples of this commitment. An organization will be rewarded in committing time and attention to these activities.  The end result will be a savings in time and cost to recruiting, hiring and training new employees—creating a pipeline of great candidates.



Kennametal has a flagship manufacturing plant, with product engineering support nestled in the Alleghany Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the borough of Bedford, PA.   Population of Bedford is about 3,000 people. Kennametal Inc. corporate headquarters is located in Latrobe, PA about 60 miles west of Bedford.  Like most Fortune 500 companies, we have experienced turnover of engineering resources which causes major inefficiencies in our recruitment and hiring programs.

In small communities, there is an exodus of our young adults because of the perception of limited job opportunities.  From our years of experience, we have found that the solution to the engineering shortage (in the Bedford area) is to grow our own engineering talent within the region.  We need to reverse a mindset and educate the community to our engineering needs; engineering jobs are available locally.  A regional plan to educate both parents and students to the rewarding careers in engineering must be initiated.


Young Engineers Program

The new Kennametal Foundation Young Engineers Program was founded by Kennametal Inc. CEO Carlos Cardoso to address this mindset.  High school juniors and seniors interested in a hands-on engineering experience are offered a 15 week, one semester experience. The focus is to reach and enhance awareness of students and their parents early in their education and encourage them to consider engineering and manufacturing careers. It also has the added benefit of introducing Kennametal as an employer for both internships and permanent careers. The program’s lesson plans include orientation; a stage gate product development process; material science; metal cutting, innovation and inventive problem solving; manufacturing; product management; engineering—design and automation; operational excellence; corporate social responsibility; plant and tech center tours; student projects; and a volunteer project. Early success has been attained for two years since initiation of this Young Engineers Program.  We will expand this program to other areas where Kennametal plants are located.

Summer Intern and CO-OP Programs

Another program for engineering development, of direct benefit to the Bedford plant, is our summer internship. We have found this program to be the most fruitful in producing highly motivated local engineering students in the Bedford area. 

Presently this facility has two full time mechanical engineers from this program, with an established pipeline of more engineering candidates on the way. An extensive interview process to look for the most qualified engineering students is crucial and pays high rewards.  It requires inclusion and participation of key engineering staff members to make it work.  Team input is extremely important and beneficial.  This process gives double rewards: It provides different viewpoints of the candidate, and grows our engineers in perception with interviewing skills. 

A human resource representative starts our process by reviewing resumes and sends the engineering manager and senior staff between 20-30 resumes to review.  The engineering team cuts this group down to five candidates. The engineering manager and a senior engineer contact the candidates to confirm resume data and conduct a phone interview. The oral interviewing process narrows the candidates down to two or three, who are then invited for a department interview. We schedule a half day interview session, with 45 minute interview segments, per engineer. Afterwards, the engineering team takes the interviewee out to lunch to interact and determine social skills.

Later, we join the interviewee on a plant tour to observe the candidate’s interest in the manufacturing process. A candidate’s interest level with the operations is of major importance.  The interviewing team and a human resource interviewer discuss the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.   Occasionally, a second interview is required, especially when two candidates with equal abilities are being considered.


Focus on Student Interests and Lifestyle

Our success formula seeks sophomore & junior engineering students with hobbies in mechanical areas such as automotive repair, restoration, motorcycles, rebuilding of equipment, etc. We also look at hobbies of hunting, fishing, camping and biking which are major draws in our area of Pennsylvania. With these factors, we make summer hiring decisions and have been very successful in filling engineering vacancies (due to promotions or growth) with highly motivated, experienced summer interns who are familiar with the job and understand the business we do. They begin working at full speed with minimal additional training required to meet the entry level engineering position.

The time spent upfront in interviewing to get the “right” person and correct training is well worth the investment of time and energy; it pays huge dividends in the future.  We tap into these summer interns to fill in during weekends, summer, Christmas and Spring breaks when our regular staff is on vacation.

Regarding the co-op program, we have little experience at the Bedford plant, but our corporate headquarters hosts co-op students.  Co-op programs are too long of a commitment to utilize student “summer breaks”.  In the summer intern program, both parties have more freedom of movement—to recommit or not; the opportunity to separate if the program does not work out for employee or employer.  Fortunately, we have not had this experience to date.


Recruitment Is for Everyone!

Include your whole engineering staff on the recruitment trail. We actively search for engineering talent everywhere—at restaurants, hospitals, auctions, scout meetings, school meetings or social gatherings. We always pose the question “Do you have any children in school interested in engineering?”

Another area to cultivate is local production workers and their children, both of which can be developed.  How many of our manufacturing employees have children close to college age or in college?  This can be an untapped resource within your grasp.  Also, we use our newly hired engineers as a resource for referral—asking friends, professors and underclassmen for qualified engineering candidates. Encourage your young engineers to stay in contact with their professors to keep this avenue open. 

Local Opportunities

We also need to proactively participate in the local schools through Junior Achievement, job shadowing, and technical presentation on what work or work opportunities are available.  This helps educate students, teachers, administrators and sometimes parents on the value of technical careers. For example, many years ago I gave a rock presentation to fourth graders to open up their horizons to earth sciences and engineering. Years later these grown fourth graders share how their interests have developed in science and engineering from these experiences. These opportunities can extend to scouting organizations, 4-H, churches, restaurants, hospitals, PTA’s, etc. I can share an experience where I was in the hospital for a minor procedure. I asked the technician if she had any children and what they were doing. She had a son in technical college for computer aided drafting (CAD). I gave her my calling card and asked him to call me. He called me about a month later to explore opportunities.


Human Resources

Our human resource department contributes to recruitment by posting job openings on the internet, plant boards, and university job sites.  They also hold open houses at corporate headquarters and do campus interviews.  We are blessed with great schools all around us—Penn State University, West Virginia University, and University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, to name a few. 


Research Grants

In addition to Human Resources reaching out for recruiting, our engineering team proactively engages with colleges and universities in research projects. For example, we have used Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh to develop a relationship both in research and future recruitment. This exposes us to professors as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations can help us get the word out to the local communities through membership, advertising and sponsorship in local events.  To ensure we get the most from these organizations, each member of the engineering staff has an annual performance objective to be proactively involved in these organizations.



While large communities and cities have their draw on our new engineering resources, the small rural communities regret the loss of their educated youth to these large areas.  Through active involvement of engineers, we can turn the tide of this exodus of our educated youth to benefit our local plants.  We must be strategically creative in educating our communities to our needs for engineering talent in manufacturing and product design and development. Many youth want to stay in their hometown communities. Our challenge is to find these youth and show them that there are challenging engineering jobs to be found locally. We must be diligent in the quest for engineering talent and move with the tide to obtain this talent.

If companies consider engineering recruitment as “strategically” important, a different level of commitment is needed. It means an organization should be proactive, working this focus and energy into all aspects of the business.  The initiatives in this paper are examples of commitment.  An organization will be rewarded in committing time and attention to creating a pipeline of great candidates.

Published Date : 12/12/2013

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