Spokane manufacturing companies adjust to retain, attract employees

Oct 11, 2021

Human resources professionals from Jubiliant Hollister Stier, Wagstaff and Premera Blue Cross talked about new challenges in keeping and attracting employees at a manufacturing summit last week in Spokane.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Manufacturing firms in the Northwest are experiencing the same issues with labor shortages as companies in other U.S. industry sectors.

That requires them to be creative as they recruit and screen prospective employees during a period of labor shortage.

They’re offering more pay, more and different benefit options and more flexibility in working arrangements.

But some traditions are slow to changeOne is the insistence that applicants have a college degree to be considered for certain jobs, says Wade Larson, the director of human resources for Wagstaff in Spokane Valley.

“We don’t have the luxury any more to weed people out by things such as degrees because they’re going to come in and they won’t have it and you’re going to rule out good people. Instead, you have to say what’s the baseline capabilities. Let’s bring them in. If they can meet the baseline capabilities, we can train them on these other things," he said.

He says, due to Covid, companies are also being creative in finding ways to offer mental health and other Covid-related benefits.

Larson spoke Thursday at a manufacturing summit in Spokane, sponsored by the Association of Washington Business. It was part of a week-long bus tour around the state.

“Part of doing the tour is not just to highlight the amazing industries that exist all throughout the state, but also the great careers for young people to graduate from high school, to be career and college-ready to go into these fields," says Kris Johnson, AWB's president.

The Spokane stop included tours of the aviation program at Spokane Community College and Jubilant Hollister-Stier’s [steerz] pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in northeast Spokane. Johnson says there were several target audiences.

“It’s talking with young people about the importance of finishing high school and getting the certificates and skills they need to be career ready or college ready. Two, it’s a reminder to the Spokane region about how important this sector of the economy is. Some people may not know how strong it actually is in Spokane. Every day, 16,000+ Spokanites go to work for a manufacturer somewhere in the region. The third piece is the state has adopted a goal, unanimously through the last legislative session, to double the number of manufacturers in our state, the number of workers and the number of women and minority-owned firms," he said.