Foxconn was in the news (again) last month, this time for alleging competitors are poaching its employees.
The complaints were levied specifically at rivals in Vietnam, where the world’s largest ODM/EMS is expanding its factories as major customers like Apple shift production away from China, in part to avoid being a pawn in the geopolitical tug-of-war between the U.S. and China.
Foxconn, which currently employs about 60,000 workers in Vietnam and plans to “significantly” boost that figure over the next 12 to 24 months, asserts its EMS competitors are establishing their own operations near Foxconn’s to make it easier to entice workers to jump ship.
“The move shouldn’t be condoned,” a senior executive with the company said last month.
Poaching complaints are hardly new, of course. Mexico is notorious for workers relocating en masse from company to company in pursuit of everything from higher pay to better food in the plant cafeteria.
Audrey McGuckin, who spent 10 years as chief talent officer for Jabil and now consults to Kimball Electronics, among others, points out the top stress point for CEOs is talent. And a McKinsey study found only 5% of CEOs feel their organizations’ talent management has been very effective at improving company performance.
COVID-related issues have raised the profile of workers and increased their bargaining power, at least in the current term. And for their part, staffers at all levels are taking advantage of the situation.
The issue isn’t whether employees can or should switch jobs. It’s what steps companies can and should take to ensure valued workers want to stay put. In short, what can companies do to keep workers?
Having a culture that respects and promotes employees is often cited, of course. But how do you get there?
Don Charron, CEO of Kimball Electronics, says developing the EMS company’s bench was a point of emphasis upon its spinoff from its parent company in 2014. In an interview on McGuckin’s podcast, he said, “We literally were one deep in several really important positions, not just in the leadership level but in the middle management as well. And I thought about our practices around talent, and it was a concern to other leaders on the team, but we really didn’t know how to approach it.”
Kimball, which has more than 6,400 employees today, realized it needed a combination of formality, rigor, and science for its talent acquisition.
Charron says Kimball put a framework in place in order “to have a tougher conversation, a better conversation with people about their personal development, and it ended up with insights that were more actionable.”
It all started, he acknowledged, with him and his leadership team getting priorities in place, then getting the priorities down to the workforce.
This tracks with studies performed by Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan, who has shown that among publicly traded companies, those that best communicated their goals and objectives throughout the entire organization were more profitable over time than those that fell short. Kaplan arrived at his conclusions through interviews of upper and middle management and hourly personnel, where he studied whether the message as conceived and intended by the ranking officers was understood and internalized at the lower levels.
Oscar Gonzalez, vice president of operations, Mexico, at Mack Technologies, agrees. In an interview on the PCB Chat podcast this spring, Gonzalez said, “I think the best companies [in Mexico] are retaining talent. … There’s been studies on what are the three key elements of what people look for. Number one: competitive salary. Number two: tasty food in the cafeteria. Number three: being treated with dignity and respect. And training, the number of hours you provide employees training.”
In my experience, middle management is where communications break down. Often those promoted to lower-level management positions are thrust into the role due to an unanticipated need and based on their skills and performance in operations or sales. They are not trained for their new responsibilities, nor are they given time to acclimate to the role under the watch of a skilled mentor. They are handed a budget, a handful of direct reports, and basically told to make it work. Those who lack flexibility and acuity quickly find themselves in tricky situations, without the tools to resolve them appropriately.
Workers, for their part, have a once-in-a-generation opportunity where they don’t need to hang around waiting and hoping for an internal change.
As Gonzalez says, training helps retain valued employees. The best printed circuit engineering training program of the year is PCB West, which takes place Oct. 4-7 at the Santa Clara (California) Convention Center. Registration is open at pcbwest.com.
The greater economy is outside our control, but every company can study their internal goals and objectives and put into place bidirectional communications systems that ensure those priorities are heard and met throughout the organization.
Mike Buetow is a director of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association.