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Is Social Media Monitoring the Cure for Manufacturing’s Talent Problem?

Today tools exist to monitor candidates’ and employees’ job seeking behaviors in real time. These tools give companies a competitive edge in recruiting, retention and workforce planning. Question is, are manufacturing executives willing to use these controversial tools to cure their talent shortage pains?

It’s no secret that manufacturers have a talent problem. According to The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond report published by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, “Over the next decade nearly 3 ½ million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled. The skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

According to that same report, six out of 10 manufacturing positions remain vacant today. Such employment gaps adversely affect innovation, customer service and the ability to meet customer demand.

What if tools existed that allowed recruiters to track the job seeking behaviors of top technical employees at other organizations? As soon as that employee launched into a new job search, the recruiter could reach out immediately with a new job offer? 

Or what if HR could be notified when an internal employee embarked on a new job hunt? HR could then intervene to diagnose the problem and make changes to retain that employee. Over time such actions would improve the firm’s overall retention rates. 

A variety of these tools exist today, and their algorithms use publicly available social data to report on job seeking behaviors; however, this is not without controversy. These monitoring tools create a quandary for manufacturing executives. If the company uses these tools, employees and candidates may feel their privacy has been compromised. If the company elects to forgo these tools, competitors who leverage them will gain an edge in a brutal talent market. 

In reality, data is constantly being gathered about us and sold by licensed data providers. The typical U.S office worker produces 1.8 million megabytes of data per year through web searches and site visits. Our smartphones are essentially sophisticated tracking devices that can pinpoint exactly where we are at a given time. Plus, we’re all familiar with how retailers use our purchasing behaviors to create buyer profiles to make preemptive product offers. We’ve had time to get used to this. Some even perceive it as enhanced customer service, and few would be willing to give up their smartphones.

However, for the first time we can use similar social data to track job seeking behaviors. Savvy candidates treat job search like any other major purchase. They use social media to keep informed about the job marketplace and learn as much as they can about a company before clicking “apply.” According to a recent Career Builder survey, 7 out of 10 workers regularly search for new opportunities. Thirty percent of respondents say that job searching is a weekly activity. That’s a lot of data to leave behind.

Actions such as following recruiters’ social accounts, subscribing to career-related content, creating job-focused online profiles and frequent visits to employment-themed pages are just a few activities that tip off monitoring tools when someone has launched a job search. Even in this data day and age, for some employees and candidates, this notion may take some getting used to.  

Will the use of this job seeking data be common practice a year from now? Possibly. Regardless, if a company plans to embark on using this data, it’s crucial for company leaders to set guidelines and governance around what is acceptable versus unacceptable before they go down the social media monitoring path. 

Good governance and transparency will help companies use data in a measured and fair way. When establishing governance, define how and when data from public information can and will be used. Review current privacy policies. Do they align with the use of monitoring technologies? When recruiting new candidates, what are recruiters permitted to look for? Be sure the information is relevant to the position.

Also be sure to establish tight authority levels on data access. It’s crucial that only select, responsible people can get their hands on job seeking behavior data. For example, managers should never see the individual job seeking activity of a direct report. If an employee starts looking for a new job, even the most mature manager might inadvertently take it out on that employee. That’s considered retaliation, and it’s illegal.

Once access rules are established, acceptable uses of this data would include leveraging the information for better workforce planning, enhanced retention, improved communication with candidates and employees, easier job advertising and candidate screening, and also enhanced customer service and employee satisfaction. 

It goes without saying that unacceptable data uses include using race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age and political affiliations for talent decisions. Less obvious is the fact that recruiting managers must avoid making hiring decisions based on unverified social information. Just because a person claims on her LinkedIn profile that she graduated from Harvard does not make it true. Likewise, punishing or harassing employees for online activity viewed unfavorably by a manager or the organization is unacceptable, such as a poorly treating an oil employee for commenting against fracking in social media. 

Companies really need to focus on defining the gray data areas. For example, is it fair to use online networks to identify candidates’ former colleagues for reference information without candidates’ knowledge? Also, as Millennials mature, what is the statute of limitations on punishing bad decisions made when young? The Internet never forgets, so should a person who is now 30 continue to be passed over as a candidate based on a Spring Break photo published 10 years ago? Determine the statute of limitations on poor choices made when young. What can be overlooked versus what cannot? (Let’s face it, who among us isn’t relieved that smartphones didn’t exist when we were in college.)

Other undefined areas to discuss include when to use data at an individual level vs. at the aggregate level. Also what is defined as intellectual property and who owns it? What if an employee unwittingly gives away too much information about a role or company strategy on a LinkedIn profile? Set guidelines around this and communicate to employees.

Social media monitoring data may provide a light at the end of the tunnel for manufacturing executives grappling with talent struggles. Handled with care, social data affords a previously unimagined opportunity to improve recruiting, workforce planning and employee retention. Those leaders who take the time now to establish appropriate boundaries and governance will avoid later conflicts and solidify their reputations as employers who operate in the best interests of all.





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