Manufacturers and Tech Companies Are Competing for the Same Talent

Manufacturers and Tech Companies Are Competing for the Same Talent

As manufacturing becomes an increasingly high-tech and talent-driven sector, many manufacturers have found themselves at pains to woo software engineers and other STEM talent away from Silicon Valley tech firms with deeper pockets and more attractive company cultures. The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Tangel looks into why fighting this talent battle is such a heavy lift for heavy industry:

Software engineering and developing jobs were the second most in demand in manufacturing over the past year, after high-turnover sales positions, according to labor-market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. But manufacturers at times can’t compete with the pay and benefits tech companies offer, said Andrew Dugenske, director of the Factory Information Systems Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. …

On average, tech companies pay $105,227, 12% more than manufacturing employers, for software developers, according to Burning Glass Technologies. For entry-level software jobs, tech companies pay $88,820, 5% more than manufacturers.

To try and close this gap, manufacturers like Caterpillar are taking a page from the tech sector’s playbook and pitching themselves to millennials as places where they can make a difference in the world:

Kelly Wojda, Caterpillar’s global director of diversity and talent, said the company is trying to bridge what she calls a “perception gap” and highlight how job candidates could, for example, make its machines more fuel-efficient and safer to operate. “Our message to them is: You would be doing work that’s helping all around the globe, make big projects happen and really working to make life better in a lot of communities,” she said.

One manufacturer that is going to exceptional lengths to attract tech talent is General Motors, which finds itself up against a whole new class of competitors as companies Uber, Tesla, and Google press into the nascent market for autonomous vehicles. To compete in this new business environment, GM’s CEO Mary Barra has launched an ambitious campaign to overhaul the company’s culture and lure more millennial techies to Detroit. Rick Tetzeli at Fast Company checks up on how that’s going:

Barra leads by example. She put herself front and center during GM’s ignition-switch crisis, when the company was implicated in over 150 fatalities. And it’s evident to anyone who’s spent time at the company that she’s forged close relationships with president Dan Amman and global product chief Mark Reuss, two contenders for the CEO job she got in January 2014.

According to GM’s HR chief John Quattrone, “Mary believes that if we change the behaviors on this floor, people who work for us will see that and emulate it.” Once a quarter, the top 16 executives in the company gather offsite for two full days. “All we do is focus on how we behave with each other,” says Quattrone. “I don’t want to get into a lot of detail. But we talk about conflict. How we manage conflict with each other. We talk about the things that someone does well, and the things that, ‘Hey, we think you can improve on.’”

These behavior-changing efforts go all the way down to the rank-and-file. I recently sat in on the two-day summit of a grassroots initiative called GM 2020 that Michael Arena launched in 2014. He partnered with MTV Scratch, a Viacom consulting division that emerged from the music channel, and handpicked 30 millennials from different parts of the company who were tasked with energizing and disrupting GM’s culture.