The Insider – courtesy of Lift & Hoist International magazine.
Without an abundance of skilled professionals to choose from, industry must get better at recruitment, says Joel Cox, president at Pintsch Bubenzer USA.
If you fancy wading through a quagmire, or negotiating a minefield, Google “recruitment”. You’ll find enough content to fill the internet. There are books, courses, advertisements, agencies, vacancies, events, and definitions—and that’s only on page one. Look a little deeper and you’ll discover thought leadership on the subject, white papers, and strategies for landing the next whizz kid who’ll take your business to the top of the world.
A few moments online leaves you breathless, but to engage in a real-life recruitment campaign, or begin a search for an employment opportunity, is more nerve-shredding still. Hours, weeks, and months (years, even) can be wasted in hunting for the right person or appropriate employer. Leads go cold, budgets are pulled, interviewees don’t show up, or the role isn’t what it appeared to be in the advertisements. Then there are the campaigns that are driven just in case the right person is out there and the candidates purely applying to gain experience.
All things combined, it’s no wonder that the very prospect of hiring or recruiting or rolling the dice and striving for a career change, causes such anxiety. What makes matters worse is that there’s no doubt that there is a shortage of skilled people in the material handling, overhead crane, and other markets where severe duty applications are commonplace. The best talent appears to be tied up in long-term agreements and those with the most to offer have the luxury of choice. However, we can place too much emphasis on those realities. Actually, the companies that struggle to engage the best people are usually wrong in blaming a shortfall in skilled workers. That doesn’t excuse poor recruitment.
There are many layers to the recruitment process—employers, agents, candidates, headhunters, the headhunted, school-leavers, experienced professionals, etc.—but I want to steer this article towards those at equipment manufacturers and suppliers who are looking to add to their workforce. This is typically a group that bemoans the lack of quality applicants. It’s worth anyone involved in a recruitment campaign reading on, however, as another complication with any hiring process is the lack of transparency between one stage to the next. In other words, applications are misdirected, and the wrong candidates are interviewed. Much of that redundancy can be avoided.
Ditch the textbooks
The first thing I encourage companies to do is ditch the textbooks. There is some valid and expert guidance out there but it’s important not to adhere too tightly to it. The best recruitment campaigns are driven with the specifics of a brand, product, market, and role in mind. Most guidance is too generic to provide meaningful assistance. The peculiarities of niche markets, like the lifting industry, make these “golden rules” more irrelevant still. Start with a blank piece of paper for each recruitment campaign. There might be spinal points that are consistent each time, some of which will be shared from one company to the next, but it has to be bespoke.
At the top of the page is the company. I’ve heard it said that the role should come first, and the candidate selected to fit, but I disagree. Regardless of the size of the business, the brand and its values must come first. No long-term success can be found in a satellite division that operates with its own ethos, controls, and goals. It must start at the top and cascade down. For example, I talk to prospective employees about Pintsch Bubenzer as a brand akin to Apple, Nike, Sony, McDonald’s, Louis Vuitton, and Porsche. That’s not arrogant; it provides immediate perspective. To say ASUSTeK, Skechers, Bowers & Wilkins, Taco Bell, Aeropostale, and Ford would conjure up different images, even though they’re all fantastic brands and businesses in their own right.
Under the brand, write the role and what is expected of the candidate. These points should refer back to the brand and the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that is shared by all existing and future employees. This should be referred to be everyone involved. I know of many recruitment campaigns where the board, interview panel, agent, and applicant all use different information as a reference point. That’s confusing for everyone involved. The brand, specifics of the role, and what is expected of the candidate should be overarching. That way, the selection, application, and interviewing (see insert) processes are all set to the same criteria. It sounds obvious but, “That wasn’t what I was expecting” is too often said of the various stages of recruitment (I’ll come to one good exception).
There are numerous platforms available to share this information to promote a role. People ask me whether recruitment agents, social media, magazines, agents, or head-hunters are the best route to the right people, and I always reply with the same answer: it depends. Instagram stories aren’t the place for experienced engineers, while local newspapers aren’t going to engage someone with niche experience. A successful recruitment campaign is always dictated to by the community where the candidate hangs out. Find that demographic and drill into it, by whatever means. Make the tweets, posts, and advertisements accurate but ensure the role sounds attractive.
School of thought
We’ve had success with third-party headhunters and the lesser tried avenue of schools and colleges. I’d encourage more manufacturers and suppliers to connect with their local education centres of excellence. We have a fruitful relationship with New Jersey’s Rutgers Engineering programme, where students have the opportunity to be part of a dynamic community that includes world-renowned faculty conducting leading-edge research. We want such young people to be aware of the Pintsch Bubenzer brand and the opportunities it can offer. It can be a slow burner and might require giving up time to speak to cohorts and relate their courseware to the specifics of the brake or equipment marketplace, but that’s rewarding work and it certainly pays dividends.
At the other end of the recruitment scale are searches for thought leaders and those with the most experience on a certain subject. We recently named Mike Zuchowski regional sales manager for ports in the western region of the states and Canada. You don’t find people like “Mike Z” by traditional recruitment methods, which is why all companies must give its leaders scope to hand-pick individuals when they become available or demand requires zenith level recruitment. I don’t want to compartmentalise it too much, but let’s say an engineer might be sourced via a college, an office worker from a third-party agent, and a vice president through connections and relationships. Be careful with the latter, however, as giving jobs to people you know well can backfire; I’ve certainly been burnt before.
Whether it be an engineer, administrator, regional salesperson, or someone else, one criterion always counts: that they have the mentality to work harder and smarter than everybody else in the room. I call it a person’s “motor”. You can find your own word for it. Remember, this guidance is pointing you towards creating a tailored recruitment strategy, not adopting that of Pintsch Bubenzer. Another business might look for an individual’s calmness, tenacity, ambition, etc. Loyalty is sure to be among the key criteria, but this is always offset to some extent by ambition. It’s hypocritical to poach someone from a competitor and then demand their loyalty to you. Making good people stick is as much to do with the extent to which they are challenged and rewarded as it is their loyalty to a cause.
Window of opportunity
Regardless of the candidate or position, the first month in any new role is the most important. An employer has little more than four weeks to induct a person, make them strive to complete successful probation, and then set on the pathway to a successful, long-term career with the company. If they haven’t achieved it in that time, the recruit has probably already started looking elsewhere. Don’t cut corners. We invest stacks of cash in making sure new employees are properly equipped and trained. Imagine what it feels like to be told training will be made available in future, or we’ll provide a cell phone and laptop, just not yet. At Pintsch Bubenzer, a new hire can expect to be sent to Germany to train and tour headquarters, be immersed in the culture of the brand, and be introduced to the entire team in and out of the workplace.
Completion of that first month or a probation period shouldn’t be a signal for the manager, supervisor, employer or boss to take a laissez faire approach, however. It’s incredibly confusing for someone to go from being the centre of attention to the forgotten man or women. No good business doesn’t invest heavily in continuing professional development (CPD). It’s a good idea to regularly get together as a team; we hold pep rallies that prove to be uplifting and productive. A shared commission system builds a sense of spirit too. This way, a salesperson or team isn’t punished for a downturn in a cyclical market. Guard against a culture where the oil and gas department are upgrading their family cars while the construction team is being halved because there’s a hold on decision-making in the sector. This will lead to higher staff turnover and more recruitment than is necessary.
For reference, Pintsch Bubenzer has 15 direct employers and 15 manufacturer representatives in the U.S. (there are many more globally). Five of those are what I call “road warriors”, three are inside sales, two technicians work in the warehouse, and an applications engineer completes our payroll. But the guidance above can be applied to companies of any size; it’s just a case of putting the brand at the top of the page and working down to the candidate at the bottom. It feels inverted to some, but our success and staff retention prove its effectiveness. I’d be delighted to hear about your next recruitment campaign, accordingly.
What interested you about the position?
Most interviews are poorly conducted. They are inefficient and tell the employer little about the candidate and the applicant even less about the role they’re hoping to step into. It’s one of the reasons so many new starters don’t get through that all-important first month.
All parties should be given a sense of the likely success of the recruitment endeavour at an interview, but it is another swampland to negotiate. Google the subject and libraries of content come up. Again, there are books about technique and strategy. Some people claim to be able to interview successfully for any role and others believe they are experts in separating wheat from chaff. I wouldn’t be so bold on either side of the fence, myself, but I’ve got experience to share, nonetheless.
Applicants are usually well prepared at answering the textbook questions about what appealed to them about the position or where they see themselves in five years’ time. Many know their biggest strengths and weaknesses, or at least the ones they refer to in interviews. It’s why I always approach such meetings from a different angle. I want the interviewee to think, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting them to ask me that”. It’s not about throwing curve balls but I want to get to know the candidate and it’s hard to do that by asking boilerplate questions that provoke rehearsed answers.