Il existe une difficulté majeure de recrutement de main-d'oeuvre de production qualifiée dans les PME québécoises. Ce texte expose les résultats d'une étude visant à mieux comprendre ce problème dans le sous-secteur de la machinerie. Les auteurs ont vérifié auprès de propriétaires-dirigeants quelques hypothèses relatives aux circonstances et au degré d'intensité de cette difficulté managériale. Plusieurs facteurs concourent à l'existence de cette dernière, mais le degré d'originalité du produit fabriqué par l'entreprise et le niveau de formation-expérience exigé dans son recrutement paraissent déterminer grandement l'ampleur du défi de trouver un personnel spécialisé adéquat
Many small and medium-sized businesses experience serious diffïculties in finding competent production personnel. The present article represents an attempt to better understand this complex problem. The empirical research was conducted in fîrms of the machinery and equipment industry in the province of Quebec.
Objectives and methodology
The specifie objectives of this study were to identify instances where the problem appears and explore, with the owner-managers, its causes as well as its possible solutions. It was also hoped to assess the severity of this problem and estimate its persistence in the years ahead. The research was conducted in two stages. The question was firstly explored through ten interviews with owner-managers who were experiencing the problem at different degrees. A schematic representation of the gênerai structure of the situation was developed from the opinions of this preliminary sample relative to instances, causes, consequences and possible solutions. This allowed then the development of working hypotheses. They were tested through a questionnaire answered by 65 owner-managers of business firms ranging in size from 5 to 250 employees.
Four out of five working hypotheses were supported by the data. The level of experience and the level of education required appear to be strongly associated with the degree of difficulty in recruting qualified production employees. Also, the more standardized the products and the more agressive the firm becomes on the market, the more effective the recruitment process seems to be. At the time of the study a majority of firms did reveal recruitment problems, but at varying degrees. Approximately one third of the owner-managers believed that the difficulty would persist in the coming years.
When education and experience are aggregated into a single measure of required job knowledge, this combination really seems to determine the extent of recruitment difficulty. When a small or medium-sized business searches for a worker both educated and experienced the risk to meet with problems is quite understandable. There are relatively few very well prepared workers in certain crafts; also a number of them prefer to be full-time employees in larger firms. Further analysis of the data shows that the degree of innovation required to conceive and fabricate the products, as ordered by customers, has much to do with the entire issue. When the job is repetitive, overall knowledge is less of a pre-requisite.
The work can sometimes be learned by low-skilled laborers which are usually avallable in greater numbers. But when the products are mainly made-to-order, the flow of orders is not always regular, especially when sales planning is not practiced.
Since manufacturing for inventory is more often useless, production planning is somewhat problematic. The firm needs people with a variety of skills in order to meet the requirements of diverse product configurations. But jobs cannot be assured on a continuous basis even for the specialized workers.
Thus, when the small firm with a high degree of originality in each product tries to recruit knowledgeable people, it is bound to meet with difficulties. The challenge is even greater when the managers practice little sales planning and develop a pattern of hiring and firing in accordance with the variations in the level of orders over time. In order to stay at a relatively low level of work-force, some factories favor overtime or outside sub-contracting during peak periods. Those short-term solutions can have other dysfunctional consequences.
Two other factors were also mentioned by the respondents: poor capacity to pay by the small firm and inadequacy of education and training programs. The former is sometimes real but also often times compensated by other working conditions. The latter is becoming increasingly serious with the introduction of more and more technologically sophisticated fabricating equipment. Many executives are open to joint business and school education. This could be a promising path to a valuable solution.
Small and medium-sized businesses should also certainly look at other possibilities of enhancing their overall planning. Dealing with the market in a more systematic and agressive way by setting objectives and following-up on potential clients can help insure continuity in demand. Manufacturing proprietary-products and standardizing some phases of operations can also contribute to more steadiness and regularity on the shop-floor. Such practices are usual pre-requisites to manpower planning in any context. Very few small business owner-managers have attained this level of sophistication in their management. But those who have are generally able to find and retain their best employees.