As I travel around the state to share and discuss the results of the latest State of Manufacturing® survey, I’m encouraged that so many manufacturers have really started to win the battle against the worker shortage. I’ve noticed that the companies attracting and retaining workers in this low unemployment rate era have three things in common.

First, they don’t moan about the problem; they acknowledge it and look for solutions. Second, they are aggressive and creative in their recruiting and development strategies. And third — and I really think this is the key — they make sure their employees truly understand how important their role is in the success of the company.

It’s striking how leaders focus on solutions. I believe that’s why we had record registration and turnout for Enterprise Minnesota’s recent manufacturing workshop: “Insights and Strategies for Employee Retention.” Nicole Lian, one of our business development consultants who specializes in HR, talent and leadership development, led the workshop. You can find her suggestions for addressing challenges on p. 28 of this issue.

Manufacturers are also doing a much better job of recruiting creatively and developing employees once they are on board. They offer internships for local high school students, they provide tuition assistance for students willing to work and pursue degrees at technical colleges, and they offer incredible flexibility with scheduling — sometimes creating 2- to 3-hour shifts if necessary — to attract employees.

When new employees are hired, successful companies carefully lay out career paths, providing specific training, and articulating key milestones for advancement. They meet regularly with all employees — not just new hires — to gauge progress and update goals for next steps in their careers. Employees can literally see their future with the company.

There’s an energy at manufacturers that are doing this well. Employees know they are doing a good job. In many cases, they have interned or been mentored, or both, and they know that whatever their occupation is, they are well-qualified. They’re proud of what they’re doing, and frankly, they are happy.

Finally, and most importantly, employees remain loyal because they recognize the value of their work. The goals cascade down from leadership to the manufacturing floor, and employees know that what they’re doing matters to the success and growth of the company.

Sometimes conveying that value is difficult. A lot of companies are not making a finished product; they’re making parts for another company. Are those parts going into a Dreamliner? A John Deere tractor? A Caterpillar dozer? Is it going into instruments used in open heart surgery? When people understand they’re making a part that’s very important, they want to stay at that company — they really feel a part of it.

We’ll continue to have low unemployment rates, but I’m excited to see so many manufacturing companies successfully tackling the problem.