Most business experts agree that a company is only as good as its most valuable asset: its own people. But what do you do when you face the situation the valve industry now faces? Top-level management and many of the most skilled people that make up production crews are retiring at the same time schools are failing to attract students to technical studies or telling them how they can use their knowledge once they graduate.
It’s unlikely that most of the people who work in the valve world woke up one day to the realization that this is what they wanted to do with their career. Yet opportunity abounds in this industry with jobs that range from CEO to valve technician to sales. Our job is to tell them what is available.
The big question for human resource personnel in the industry today is where to start and, more importantly, where to finish in the search to fill all the open positions.
Valve and actuator companies—both manufacturers and the many industries that depend on valves and actuators to run their operations—are looking for people with dozens of different crafts, skills and trades as well as sales and administrative personnel. As always, there is also a very strong need for engineers and research and development staff.
A sampling of some of the more popular jobs in valve and actuator manufacturing companies, and service and repair companies, as well as some of the plants that use flow control products, is shown in the box at left.
The list should be promising to people looking for jobs. But it is scary for those who must fill those positions.
So how do we do it? In the old days, we put the largest ad we could afford in the local newspaper or, if we weren’t in a large metropolitan area, we appealed to the college newspapers.
Today, however, it’s more like a “Where’s Waldo?” exercise: much more complicated given the wide range of ways people look for jobs or skilled workers.
There are three problems that have to be dealt with: 1) the lack of qualified applicants, 2) the difficulty in reaching the applicants, and 3) generating interest in manufacturing and industry.
The good news is that, based on the number of engineering graduates coming out of schools today, there are more qualified applicants looking for jobs than there were 24 months ago. The bad news is the demand for jobs is much greater than 24 months ago so the competition among industries to attract the best talent is keen.
An important part of the sales pitch we need to use in attracting talent among that greater pool of applicants is convincing potential employees that the valve industry is challenging, interesting and offers a great opportunity for growth in their chosen fields.
How, then, are we finding the right people? The most successful companies are using a multi-pronged approach, as evidenced in findings from VMA’s recent survey (see “VMA Survey Reveals Extent of Talent Drought”).
VMA’s June 2014 poll of its membership revealed much information about what members are doing. One reality is that they are not relying very heavily on social media to find people: More than 50% of respondents stated they do not use social media in their hiring process.
Of those companies that do use social media, LinkedIn was used by 44% of companies followed by Facebook at 24%.
This finding is significant for one reason: Our industry may not yet be using this medium, but we are bound to use this channel more in the future. According to a 2013 survey by Jobvite, 94% of recruiters use or plan to use social media to find people going forward, a number that has increased steadily in the last six years. Perhaps even more significant, however, is that 73% of 18- to 34-year-old people looking for a job used a social network to find their last job, according to the Aberdeen Group. It’s clear that if our industry does not more fully embrace this trend, other industries may draw away some of the potential talent.
Here’s what members are currently doing:
Internet job boards such as Monster.com are used by nearly 70% of the VMA companies polled, though how heavily those boards are used depends on job type. Traditional methods, such as employee recommendations and job recruiters, are still a big part of the hiring process for upper-level positions.
When asked why an employer today would opt for the services of a professional recruiter instead of a job board placement, Don Rivers of Don Rivers & Associates (DR&A), a professional recruiter who focuses on the valve industry, explained: “Our customers tell us they can’t afford to make a mistake by hiring the wrong person off of a job board.” Using a professional recruiter is like “shooting with a rifle as opposed to a shotgun. Our focus is often on jobs that are never listed on job boards,” he noted.
Another interesting fact revealed by the VMA survey is that the most in-demand positions in the valve world are in sales—both inside and outside. Rivers echoes those findings. When asked which positions were most sought by his clients, he said “sales engineers, sales managers and inside sales,” and thinks the current job market is the best he has seen in 26 years. Close behind the need for people to sell the valve products is the need for technicians and manufacturing operations-type personnel.
GOOD PAYING JOBS
On the Gulf Coast, the number one degree valve companies seek when filling technical sales positions is a logistics or industrial distribution degree. Graduates from these programs receive a fair amount of technical education in addition to courses in sales, distribution and supply chain management. Two of the more popular schools in the Gulf Coast offering this type of degree are Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.
While sales positions are most in demand, the hardest positions to fill are those that require technical expertise, according to Rivers as well as VMA’s survey. At the top of DR&A’s difficult-to-fill list, for example, are valve automation sales engineers and valve technicians.
This has changed slightly in that several years ago, it was widely accepted the most urgent need in industry was for more young engineers. That situation has improved, and the number of young faces at valve standards meetings and participating in other industry activities is very encouraging. At the same time, however, there still are many engineering openings because the Medicare clock is gaining on the last of the baby boomers.
Starting pay for mechanical engineers on the Gulf Coast is about $65,000, while experienced engineers can receive $100,000 to $150,000 per year.
Jobs that require technical or associate degrees in the valve industry also pay well. For example, craftsmen, such as machinists and welders, can make an excellent salary with pay for machinists in the Houston area running from $18 to $30 an hour and almost all such jobs providing guaranteed overtime because of sheer need. It is not unusual for an experienced machinist to make more than $100,000 a year. This shows these are not just “jobs,” but excellent, well-paying careers to pursue.
All of this also reveals the jobs are there, and they need to be filled, but what is the best way to connect the valve employer with the prospective valve employee? That question is closely associated with a second question: How do we inform prospective employees about the industry, as well as the benefits of making it a career choice?
Recognizing its role as the leader for the U.S. and Canadian valve manufacturing industry, VMA is embarking on a campaign to help increase industry awareness. While plans are still under development on how to get to that goal, proposals include a special career section on VMA.org to supply necessary information to those considering a career in the industry—from an industry overview to types of jobs available.
The association also plans to develop a flyer that can be distributed at trade shows, college career fairs, technical schools and similar places.
THE MODERN MANUFACTURING FACILITY
One of the more daunting tasks facing us today is repackaging the manufacturing side of the industry to make it more attractive to skilled people. Unfortunately, the past 20 years have not been kind to the manufacturing image. Much of the public still pictures a smoky, belching furnace and rundown, dimly lit brick factory.
While U.S. and Canadian manufacturing facilities are not Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, today they are very clean and safe places to work. They also are likely to be filled with computers, programmable logic controllers, robots and modern computer-controlled machine tools, as well as the latest innovations in modern manufacturing productivity.
One example comes to mind: A VMA member’s 500-person plant in the Southeast is an impressive facility with a combination of excellent working conditions and modern productive equipment. This company facility is not unique among VMA member companies. There are many like it, from Connecticut to California, from Texas to Quebec. These facilities are the priceless intellectual property of the valve industry, and we need to capitalize on them in every way possible. If more high school and college students could visit these facilities—either in person, by viewing videos or via webinars—the image of the industry would receive a boost that could very well equate to more jobs filled.
The time is right, and the opportunity is there. VMA members—and others in the industries that both produce and use valves—need to work together as a team to help educate the public and potential employees about our industry. We also need to create productive venues and processes for attracting the best available candidates.
VMA SURVEY REVEALS EXTENT OF TALENT DROUGHT
by Genilee Parente
Responses to the first question asked on VMA’s “Careers in the Valve Industry Survey” show exactly why the association and the industry need to be searching for ways to attract skilled workers: When asked if finding qualified personnel is difficult, over 90% of respondents answered “yes.”
The percentage reveals how deep the problem goes, while the rest of the survey results provide details on where the skills are needed and what companies are already doing.
It’s clear from responses that one of the greatest needs lies in sales: 45.2% indicate they have difficulty hiring inside sales people while another 45.2% say hiring for outside sales is a problem. The other great need is for people with appropriate technical skills: 41.9% of respondents have trouble finding the right floor or production personnel while 35.5% can’t find the right engineering/R&D people. In addition, 29% say they have difficulty attracting people who know repair, service and maintenance.
“It doesn’t matter if the unemployment is up or down, it’s always hard to find qualified people for doing valve repair work,” comments Kim Beise of DOWCO.
Non-technical positions don’t fare nearly as poorly: 3.2% of respondents can’t fill executive level positions; 3.2% can’t fill administrative and customer service positions; and 9.7% can’t fill marketing jobs. The only place where management positions are a problem are on the production lines: 22.6% have trouble filling manufacturing management jobs.
HOW POSITIONS ARE FILLED
Even though social media is touted in many industries as the best way to find personnel today, it’s not the primary channel the valve industry uses: 54.8% of respondents indicate they use no form of social media for recruiting.
The other means of searching for talent depends on the job and the level of education required.
For example, for jobs that require no college, 67.7% use online job boards such as monster.com and 61.3% post positions on their own website while the next greatest source is referrals from other employees (58.1%).
For positions that require at least a 2-year technical degree or specialized training post-high school, the results are about the same: 71% use job boards, 64.5% post on their own website and 61.3% rely on employee referrals.
However, for jobs that require 4-year or master’s degrees another source comes into play: 63% of respondents say they use professional recruiters (compared to 48.4% for jobs requiring some technical education). Still, job boards play a heavy role at this level at 69% as do employee referrals at 69% and the company website at 56%.
Open-ended comments revealed a few additional ideas for places to look. Bruce Broxterman, Richards Industries, says his company relies on interns and part-time jobs for students who are in machining classes at the local technical high school. Cliff Smith of Metso Automation USA says his company has full-time recruiters on staff and that Metso also has college-level co-ops, “which are a great source for new employees.”
WHAT VMA CAN DO
Other comments also reveal that industry professionals have a variety of ideas for ways their association can help. Bob Kemple of ASCO suggests developing relationships with universities and inviting them to industry meetings.
Ray Jacques of Bradken Engineered Products suggests inviting students to learning workshops or encouraging companies or colleges to sponsor such attendance. David Hughes, Pentair, said that VMA members could visit college campuses to promote careers in the industry.
Careers in the industry
- Accounting clerk
- Actuator technician
- CNC operator
- CNC programmer
- Computer programmer
- Corporate communications professional
- Database manager
- Electrical engineer
- Field service repair technician
- Graphic designer (print and Web)
- Human resources manager
- Industrial electrician
- Industrial hygienist
- Instrumentation technician
- Inventory specialist
- IT manager
- Maintenance mechanic
- Marketing manager
- Mechanical engineer
- Mechanical engineering technologist
- Non-destructive testing technician
- PLC programmer
- Product manager
- Project manager
- Quality assurance manager
- Quality assurance technician
- Safety manager
- Sales (inside & outside)
- Sales manager
- Website content managers