Career Development / Changing Workforce

Why worker recruitment, development and retention policies don't reflect current and future realities

Joel Leonard says the maintenance industry needs to reevaluate how it recruits, develops and retains skilled workers.

By Joel Leonard, contributing editor

In its 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that, between 2006 and 2016, an annual average of 27,000 electricians will be necessary to accommodate growth in the industry and to replace those who are leaving the workforce (a turnover rate of nearly 27%).

These figures (at are for electricians only. What about mechanics, maintenance managers and facilities managers? We’re going to need hundreds of thousands of them as well.

As we enter the geezer-bust (the term baby boomer no longer seems appropriate), and the transfer of responsibility to future generations of workers continues, we need to reevaluate how we recruit, develop and retain skilled workers. Pete Little, president of MPACT Learning Center (, says to identify your best candidates from other departments — ones with good conduct records, attendance and attitudes -- and develop their technical skills. He is a strong proponent of “pay for skills” systems as opposed to seniority. With the pressures businesses are facing, companies need to boost skill sets by enforcing “skill up or move out” performance policies.

Steve Bean, maintenance manager for RF Micro Devices (, says he evaluates new hires for three characteristics: character, motivation and technical competency. He says the first two are mandatory and the technical skills are optional because they can be boosted with on-the-job experience and formal training.

Too many companies are frustrated with the complacency of existing workers. As I call it, fat, dumb and happy (FDH) syndrome drives complacency and satisfaction with the status quo. With the entire world wanting the same rights and privileges that U.S. workers take for granted, to compete, employers need more and more PHD (poor, hungry and driven) workers to innovate and strive to implement new strategies.

Sadly, many companies’ recruitment, development and retention policies don’t reflect current and future realities. “Companies are going to face problems like they never had before,” says Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group (, in her recent interview, “Workers that they thought would never leave them are now targets for other companies struggling to locate qualified talent to hire.”

I thank Chuck Kooistra, vice president of General Physics (, for pointing out the advantages of nepotism. Like most, I cringe at the mere mention of the word, having dealt with owners’ kids getting opportunities and privileges over hard-working, deserving employees.

However, I recently taught a class on the aging workforce attended by two maintenance managers from a coal mine in North Dakota. I shared with them Chuck’s ideas about nepotism. They said their president won’t allow nepotism in their company, and that the topic isn’t even open for discussion. But the closest community has only 5,000 people. Hiring only one member of a family means potentially overlooking several capable workers, and they might have gotten the dullest of the bunch.

Businesses need to overcome not just racial or gender prejudices, but also location or education affiliation biases. It blows me away to see companies not hire a qualified worker because he or she went to a sports rival high school or college, but it happens every day. Personally, I had to think long and hard before accepting a job to work for a Duke grad, being a former Carolina undergrad. He turned out to the best boss I have ever worked for. Part of the reason I’m so passionate about the maintenance crisis is that I know that as he retires in the coming years, few are coming up to replace his level of technical competency, attention to detail and intellectual capacity in the engineering field.

Perhaps many of our society’s self-inflicted ills and antiquated approaches can go away as more strive to win the battle against the maintenance crisis. I hope you’ve visited and enjoyed the online video and audio files at and thank you for all of your feedback and continued support!

E-mail Joel Leonard at

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