How to find, qualify, motivate & retain technical talent
Businesses are facing a major problem as technical vacancies are extremely hard to fill. Wim Vancauwenberghe, director of BEMAS, brought together four experienaced players in the field of asset & solution management to analyse the situation and to look for possible structural solutions.
The participants in this roundtable discussion:
- Christophe Dhaenens, Strategic work post manager at D-Inc & Fluvius
- Sarah Geeroms, Talent acquisition & learning and development manager at La Lorraine Bakery Group
- Jorim Rademaker, CEO of Manual.to
- Peter Verstraeten, CEO of Proceedix
Everything starts with the influx of talent. How can companies ensure that qualified people join them?
Sarah Geeroms: “At La Lorraine Bakery Group , we are always looking to attract experienced technical talents, but due to the current labour market, we introduced a different approach and we aim to attract also less qualified people with our vision ‘hire for attitude, train skills’. We emphasise particularly our assets, such as an intensive on-the-job training and growth opportunities. Contacts with schools are also becoming increasingly important in order to attract qualified staff. Unfortunately, there is still a big gap between educational institutions and the business world. Expectations need to be aligned even more so that the gap narrows and in the long run preferably disappears.”
Christophe Dhaenens: “At Fluvius there are two actions for school leavers. During the Easter holidays, final-year students are given the opportunity to do an instructive work placement with us. They are evaluated like the technicians, which strongly motivates them to give it their best effort. In addition, we offer a dual learning programme for 16- and 17-year-olds. This is not just another training but a broad education in an industrial working environment. It requires a lot of flexibility from our teachers, but it yields satisfactory results.”
How can the knowledge and expertise required for certain tasks and jobs be transferred and disseminated in a company?
Jorim Rademaker: “At Manual.to we deliberately built a straightforward way of passing on knowledge. We create a broad support base on the floor and give these workers the tools to easily and quickly share their know-how themselves . The advantage of this approach is that the older co-workers, who used to rely on paper manuals, now connect with the younger co-workers, who are used to apps such as TikTok and YouTube. They learn from each other, which boosts their skills as well as their motivation.”
Peter Verstraeten: “Simplicity is indeed key when it comes to making knowledge available. Digital communication, for example via an online platform with short and clear instructions and videos, is an ideal tool. However, there is a caveat. Videos and tutorials are useful, but evidently you don’t have time to watch them when you are in the middle of a problem. That is why a step-by-step workflow with bitesize instructions is crucial to guide people while executing the job both in an online and offline context.”
Keeping employees motivated: what is the best way to do that?
Verstraeten: “I strongly believe in engagement. Every company operates on the basis of specific procedures and guidelines. Usually, they are directive and operate in a single direction. Giving your people the opportunity to share feedback on the way they work, this one-way traffic shifts into a two-way traffic. This creates an elevated level of engagement and motivation. Merely following rules does not work for people on the floor.”
Rademaker: “It is essential for the workers to feel listened to. Having them contribute to the knowledge base, makes sure the know-how shared is real, authentic and grounded in reality.”
How can a company ensure that all technical tasks are completed and executed effectively and correctly?
Geeroms: “At La Lorraine Bakery Group, we try to do this by splitting up tasks and competences in certain areas and by focusing on our people’s strengths. Starting technicians only need a good basic knowledge and the right attitude. Equipped with this knowledge, they enter an elaborate onboarding process with intensive on-the-job training but also various training courses via external partners. This gives them plenty of opportunities to learn and develop at their own pace. Moreover, we work in teams, where each employee can engage his or her own abilities and talents. Above all, we want our people to discover, learn and grow for themselves. We always make sure that an experienced technician is present to help and jump in if necessary. That way we can be sure that everything is executed In a correct and safe way.”
Dhaenens: “At Fluvius we do not recruit for a specific job but for a full career. We provide a comprehensive training programme for those who start at our company. We ensure that all our technical staff are well-informed about both the latest technologies and devices and equipment that has been in use for many years. We work with a system of exams and continuous assessment. We regularly organise refresher and updating courses, during which our people learn about recent technologies and methods that help them do their jobs well. This is always a good opportunity to exchange experiences with other technicians. Moreover, the teachers learn from their students, especially from the younger generation with their digital habits. An exciting cross-fertilisation takes place that benefits everyone involved.”
Rademaker: “Inside of your work instructions and know-how, using digital tools like ours, it is now easy to allow the operators to confirm the completion of tasks according to specifications.
How do you manage to keep people in the organisation after internal training and a few years of work experience?
Verstraeten: “Companies need to move with the times and invest in an online e-learning platform where professional knowledge and technical instructions can be easily accessed. In addition, they need the tools to support and guide each employee individually with personal and contextual instructions at work.”
Rademaker: “If you want to keep the young talents in the company, you have to provide them with knowledge tailored to their needs and mindset, similar to TikTok and YouTube. Text-only books are outdated; young people want to be informed quickly and visually. Information should also be available in the right language. Because our customers have production sites in several countries, we make all knowledge automatically available in more than one hundred languages. You have to speak their language, and that means you have to add not just a translation, but also video.”
Geeroms: “For our safety instructions, for instance, we communicate mainly with images, cartoons and videos, and as little text as possible. In that way, we want everyone to understand the basic information and instructions.”
Rademaker: “Working with images only is certainly possible, but if you can have texts translated easily, it is still very valuable to provide context. With video, adding short text will do.”
All participants agree that it is a big challenge to find and recruit technical talent, both technicians and engineers. Today, as many as 10% of technical vacancies remain unfilled. To solve this, companies need to invest fully in a recruitment strategy with a long-term vision. This is how the right people will enter the organisation and stay there. Talented employees stay in the company – instead of looking for another job – which can only improve operations and profitability.