The Goal of FMHA Workforce Development Initiative is to Meet High Demand for Manufactured Housing Through Dedicated Talent Recruitment
Demand for manufactured housing in many parts of the country, including Florida, outpaces supply, and the FMHA workforce development initiative looks to address a labor shortage that could improve home deliveries.
“Several Florida home builders have reported lengthy backlogs,” Florida Manufactured Housing Association Executive Director Jim Ayotte said. “Some builders are forgoing sales because they are unable to complete homes in a manner that would satisfy any additional demand.”
Lengthy backlogs eliminate one of the industry’s important value propositions – speed to market. And this could have ramifications for the long-term growth of the industry.
Several factors have heightened manufactured housing demand, including escalating single family home prices, which are tied to the steady growth in need for workforce, millennial and retiree housing.
The demand for moderately-priced housing won’t wane any time soon, so the solution is to increase production capacity. The question is: how, and how quickly can it be done?
Several things can be done to increase homebuilding capacity:
- Open new factories
- Expand existing factories and production
- Added automation and other factory efficiencies
- Increased skilled and semi-skilled labor
The introduction of new plants and more automated systems, including the use of robotics, is pricey and involves months if not years to develop.
More immediate impact is needed, and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association is taking the lead to attract more workers to the manufactured housing industry in Florida and south Georgia.
Ayotte said he anticipates the FMHA workforce development initiative will not only work for his members, but can serve as a model for other industry associations.
“There are no secrets when it comes to strategies for identifying, attracting and training qualified workers,” Ayotte said. “The real secret is having the discipline to follow through on a plan of action.”
The FMHA Workforce Development Initiative Task Force
FMHA launched its workforce development initiative in early 2018 by creating a Task Force of member volunteers. The Task Force was charged with identifying specific employment needs and creating strategies for communicating to young people why they should consider a career in manufactured housing. Task Force members have agreed to personally deliver the industry’s message to school administrators, career counselors and students.
Byron Stroud, director of community sales for Skyline Champion Corporation, is among the Task Force members.
“The task force objective is in regard to the entire workforce in our industry. We want to develop a program to find, train, education and maintain our workforce,” Stroud said. “The first thing is to communicate in a way that cuts through the perceptions that people might have of the industry. We have to do a better job of helping people understand the value and importance of manufactured housing.
Stroud said multiple manufacturers are ready and willing to dedicate resources to the effort, and would like to see the effort expanded beyond Florida and south Georgia.
“We are considering setting up training centers right in our facilities and working with the industry to set up certification criteria within the trades for our industry, including electrical, framing, plumbing, welding and possibly even HVAC,” he said. “Our company has voiced this willingness and we think we can initiate good processes and programs that can be emulated and used in other markets.”
Recruitment Goes Beyond Home Building Trades
Recruiting goes beyond the trades, as well, Stroud said. In most of the same factories where homes are being built, there is a need for skilled team members to work in purchasing, IT, and drafting and design, for instance.
FMHA and its task force also will be setting up job fairs, starting with a yet-to-be-announced location in Gainesville, where model homes will be set up. Task force members and other builders and retailers will be at the fair to show the homes and answer questions from prospective employees. The homes will remain on site for a month or more, and will be open to the public and community owners for tours and purchase.
The association staff is developing educational materials and creating a platform on social media and its website to connect prospective employees with interested employers. It conducted research on career and technical schools, employment centers and job fairs in proximity to each member manufacturing plant to enhance the likelihood of identifying and attracting qualified employees.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ads were developed to catch the attention of young people who are ready to choose a career path. Those who click the ad links arrive at the FMHA Employment Opportunity landing page, where all FMHA member manufacturers’ contact information is listed and linked directly to their websites.
After connecting employees to employers online, the next step was for potential candidates in high schools and tech schools to receive information in person, by a knowledgeable, engaging member of FMHA. A slideshow presentation has been used with counselors and teachers, as well as a full-color brochure aimed directly at young prospects.
The Value of ‘Hand-Built Homes’
In 2017, FMHA created an image campaign, called “Hand-Built Homes”, to dispel misconceptions about this industry. The workforce development initiative, the Hand-Built campaign and the association’s research and on home quality in assessing storm damage to manufactured homes post-Irma all work in concert to raise the profile of manufactured housing.
FMHA’s workforce initiative Task Force members also will use a 3-minute video and brochure for supporting materials. A team of FMHA members has committed to take these tools on personal visits with students and educators in their locales. After a period of feedback from those visits, adjustments can be made, and new tools can be developed.
“Creating industry career paths that continue through generations ensures that as advanced building techniques occur, there will be enough skilled workers ready to implement those improvements,” Ayotte said. “Production can begin to fill the need for high-quality, affordable housing for Florida’s workforce and income-restricted homebuyers.”
As a state association, FMHA has the unique ability to drive the workforce development initiative because of existing relationships with state and local government officials, Florida’s school systems and forward-thinking industry leaders.
“By deploying our task force ‘ambassadors’ with effective tools, we enable them to make one-on-one connections in rooms full of eager minds,” Ayotte said. “And the blueprints FMHA has developed are not Florida-specific; our efforts to solve the industry worker shortage can and should be used as a model throughout the country.”