Five years ago, Willington Nameplate, a Connecticut manufacturer of product labels and plates, did next to nothing to recommend itself to younger workers. The 50-year-old company’s workforce was on a slow march to retirement, with the average employee tenure at 17 years.

“Historically we would bring people in and put them in certain functions, and they would stay there until they screamed that they wanted out,” says Brett Greene, Willington’s president.

Willington Nameplate millennial employee on production floor

But as the family-owned company acquired three other players in the nameplate and labels sector, it realized it had to try harder. In came more big-name customers in automotive and aerospace, with more regulations and quality demands.

“In the past we joked that we were just looking for warm bodies—getting anyone to do manual tasks,” says Greene,. “But as our company has evolved … we can’t get that type of person just to come in and check their brain at the door and then go home.” They were on the hunt for “people who can adapt and think and learn multiple roles.”

To up the ante, Willington changed its interview process, redid its website, hired a branding firm that works with manufacturing clients and added a two-week training class for new employees. Now, with retirements and the infusion of fresh talent, the average workforce tenure is 12 to 13 years.

“We’ve transitioned quite a bit,” says Greene, himself a recruit, having joined the company in 2012 after working at Barnes Aerospace.

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