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Three ways to attract and retain diverse workers

Ethan Karp
By Ethan Karp President and CEO, MAGNET: Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network

Ezabarin Moore didn’t see herself beginning a manufacturing career at 47. A former city bus driver and stay-at-home mom, she just wanted more money to provide for her four kids. By chance, she spotted a brochure with a female welder on it. Until then, she never imagined women did those kinds of jobs.

This wasn’t a failure of imagination. Ezabarin couldn’t see herself in manufacturing because for too long our industry hasn’t seen her in manufacturing either. Where I work in Northeast Ohio, our industry’s payrolls are 83% white and 74% male.

We can change that. Amid record labor shortages, manufacturers have an opportunity to open doors to vast and untapped populations of diverse talent: veterans, women, people with disabilities, people of color, people in disadvantaged communities, and people returning from the criminal-justice system. The ongoing shift to Industry 4.0 only underscores the need to draw in a new cohort of diverse workers. They need to know that these technologies aren’t squashing opportunities but creating them. 

But building a workforce as diverse as our cities isn’t easy. There are systemic barriers that need eliminating by all of us coming together in radical partnerships to align government, private sector, and nonprofits. This is the only long-term solution.

But individual manufacturers can take practical steps right now. Here are three things you can do.

Set diversity targets: But not quotas. At my company, we set aspirations to double the total number of diverse candidates interviewed (not hired) compared to average diversity in those specific roles in the region.

This is an opportunity to target one of the biggest traps we fall into: our tendency to continually tap networks we know, even if they’re not diverse.

Setting diversity targets forces us to work harder to broaden our outreach and build new, diverse talent pipelines.

Build an inclusive culture: Bringing in diverse talent is the first step. Next, it’s about retention and engagement. That means building an inclusive culture where everyone feels welcome and valued.

Such a culture ensures psychological safety through heightened awareness of unconscious bias and micro-aggressions, as well as ample space for people to have open and honest conversations that bridge differences and build understanding and trust. Getting this right is critical.

Acknowledge that equal is not equitable: As we widen our talent pools, we’ve got to realize that treating everyone equally is not always equitable—even when equity is the goal.

In other words, people from different backgrounds need different things. For instance, a student we placed as an intern at a local manufacturer was doing well until, one day, his paycheck was accidently shorted by $20. He was angry and yelled his displeasure. Unsurprisingly, he was fired.

The reality was this student was supporting his family, and $20 meant multiple meals. When we explained this to his employer, they let him come back. He’s also getting coached on problem-solving and workplace norms. Only by giving employees customized resources to suit their specific needs can you start building an equitable environment where everyone can get to the same place.

As for Ezabarin, she became a machinist at a metal forging company and is now a CNC operator. Anyone hoping to grow their business in manufacturing will need many more Ezabarins—especially as we shift to Industry 4.0.

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