Michigan’s Gentex uses social media to attract workers

August 17, 2018 06:01 CET

In a U.S. state straining to hire enough workers to sustain an expanding and evolving auto industry, mirror maker Gentex has an even tougher challenge and it has turned to Facebook to help overcome this obstacle.

Its West Michigan manufacturing base is one of the state’s tightest job markets. Ottawa County, Michigan, where Gentex operates, posted a 3.1 percent unemployment rate in June, the most recent month available.

That environment is a big reason the Zeeland, Michigan, supplier is looking for new ways to recruit and hire people — not just for its current needs, but to support growth in the years ahead.

Its two big efforts now revolve around social media and community-based advertising. The company wants to do more than fill jobs in Zeeland — it wants to build a local reputation that will attract future workers, said Craig Piersma, Gentex director of marketing. He has hired a dedicated social media employee for the human resources department’s recruiting efforts.

“The primary source of new recruits is social media,” Piersma told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News. “Facebook, specifically, is the way we’re finding potential new employees, going hand in hand with word-of-mouth.”

Gentex hires between 300 and 500 people a year. Last year it had original-equipment sales of $1.76 billion, up from $1.64 billion in 2016.

For the past year, the company’s top recruitment tool is the open interviews it holds every Wednesday at its Zeeland plant. But the key to that event, Piersma says, is posting about it on social media the day before. He says it’s not unusual for the dedicated Facebook post to reach between 30,000 and 60,000 people.

Gentex will typically “boost” the post, or pay a couple hundred dollars for extra reach. But employees who share the post and tag their family and friends in it are often the driving force behind the success.

Brand-image approach

“As we grow 8 to 10 percent a year, it gets more difficult,” Piersma said of the need to fill jobs. “The number of people you need to recruit grows exponentially. We knew we had to create a little bit more systematic way to do it.”

But the company is also thinking longer range about the challenge by taking a brand-image approach to its community presence. Piersma calls it Gentex’s “community relations and visibility effort.”

The supplier started to sponsor local events, including becoming the primary sponsor of the 2018 Michigan auto show in Grand Rapids, about 20 miles northeast. Grand Rapids offers a larger population — 200,000 vs. Zeeland’s 5,600 — but Gentex is not well known in there.

Gentex set up a recruitment table in the lobby of the auto show, along with its technology display. With the show sponsorship came radio, TV and billboard event ads that splashed Gentex’s name around the area.

Piersma says the approach illustrates that the line between human resources and marketing is becoming blurred as companies nationwide struggle to attract and retain employees.

Mike DiClaudio, principal analyst for KPMG’s advisory services in New York, agrees.

Building a ‘root system’

DiClaudio says recruiting today is about “treating talent like consumers” and creating a brand that those consumers will want to be a part of. He urges automotive companies to build what he calls a “root system,” embedding themselves into local communities and schools to create a longer-term pipeline for talent.

Gentex is developing relationships with local high schools and colleges, Piersma said.

“We try to form very specific relationships with universities and get people from there,” he said. “We maintain relationships with professors and student groups and have internships here.”

DiClaudio says suppliers need to find methods to nip the work force problem in the bud or be prepared to see it balloon.

“It’s not a tomorrow problem,” DiClaudio said. “It’s a today and tomorrow opportunity.”

You can reach Stephanie Hernandez McGavin at smcgavin@crain.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *