What Candidates Are Asking About Sustainability in Manufacturing

Today’s manufacturing sector has faced many challenges, from supply chain constraints to shifts in buying habits to a tight labor market. Among consumers and job candidates, one increasingly significant factor is a commitment to sustainability and future planning. This aspect is also where companies can set themselves apart in a vast manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing is bouncing back from its mid-pandemic lows and continues to comprise a pillar of the American economy. Research from McKinsey found that the sector accounts for approximately 8% of the American workforce, 11% of GDP, and 35% of productivity growth. As the sector grows, candidates bring their central values to their job searches, including an interest in sustainable manufacturing practices.

Hiring teams should be prepared with answers to some of the most common questions candidates may have about organizations’ “green” practices and long-term planning for a sustainable future. Here are a few questions candidates are most likely to ask, from big-picture queries to specific details.


“Is Your Company Committed to Sustainable Manufacturing?”

Employees are more interested than ever in joining companies whose values match theirs. Seventy-one percent of professionals would even take a pay cut if it meant working for a company with values and mission they believe in.

As manufacturing looks to the future, candidates have a forward-thinking outlook, too. Many consider sustainability action a make-or-break factor when considering a new role. These statistics from an HSBC survey on the future of work highlight its importance:

  • 27% of businesses viewed sustainability credentials as crucial for attracting or retaining talent.
  • 28% saw corporate social responsibility as a critical factor for hiring and retention.
  • 29% say demonstrating a positive impact in the broader community is especially important to attract talent.

Candidates will likely start with broad questions to understand a company’s general stance on “green” issues. Does your company have a formal sustainability statement? How do you handle corporate social responsibility? What steps have you taken to incorporate sustainability into your practices and supply chains? Are there examples that demonstrate the positive impact you have on your community, industry, and the world at large?

Candidates have a clear purpose in asking these questions. They want to understand your environmental goals and philosophy to see how that would affect job requirements and managerial decisions. For example, say a company was investing in a new machine and choosing between two pieces of equipment. One machine was “greener” but would cost more. If a candidate strongly believed in sustainable manufacturing and recommended the purchase of the eco-friendly machine, would they get the green light from management?

Candidates who feel good about answers to their questions will likely move forward, while those concerned about a company’s sustainability position may not wish to continue the process.


“What Impact Can Individuals Have on Sustainable Practices?”

 Whether you’re recruiting for a C-suite role or mid-level position, individuals want to know the impact they can have on nudging companies in a more sustainable direction. Current leaders are feeling the push from their employees already: 65% of CXOs report feeling pressure from their employees to move the needle on sustainability.

Being able to answer these questions is especially important when recruiting Millennial and Gen Z talent, who are quickly becoming a driving force in the workplace. 48% of Gen Z employees and 43% of Millennials say they have put some pressure on their employer to take action on sustainability and climate change. Those who feel that their employers genuinely listen to their feedback also tend to be more loyal and less at risk of turnover.

Manufacturing leaders and employees also want to feel confident they can live their values without conflict. Over a third of today’s professionals say they would consider leaving a job if asked to do something that caused an ethical or moral conflict. Candidates will want to know how managers will be expected to handle issues with their direct reports.


“What Actions Is Your Company Taking to Improve Sustainability?”

 Because “sustainability” is often used as a selling point, candidates will likely want to hear specifics about your company’s policies. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of organizations with big claims about sustainability but much smaller actions. Candidates will want to know how values translate into actions at your organization.

 It’s fair for candidates to have these concerns. Across industries, the most common sustainability-related actions are the “easy” or “basic” ones. Sixty-seven percent of companies say they’re incorporating more sustainable or recyclable materials. Fifty-seven percent use more environmentally-friendly or energy-efficient technology, and 55% are “training” employees on climate change, actions, and impacts. In contrast, actions that require more buy-in from senior leadership and more cultural change are less frequently seen. Forty-six percent of companies say they require suppliers and business partners to meet sustainability criteria, 40% incorporate climate considerations into political donations and/or lobbying, and only 37% have begun tying senior leadership’s compensation to sustainability benchmarks.

In manufacturing, candidates will want to understand concrete examples of how your organization has “greened” their business. For instance, if you’re in plastics manufacturing, you might talk about the exploration of bioplastics; if you’re manufacturing paper products, you might share details of your sustainable, forest-friendly supply chain, and so on. If possible, you may even want to discuss upcoming plans to show a commitment to progressively more impactful actions and how the candidate’s role would fit into those plans.

People care about the environment, and we are truly all in this together on one planet. Organizations that can demonstrate how they’re taking action and doing their part will likely stand out in the contest for top talent.

By Rose Dorta

Are you a high-performing leader or believe you have the potential to tackle a more challenging role? Would you be interested in career opportunities that are seeking these attributes?

I’d love to chat with you and answer any questions that you have. Email me, Rose Dorta, Managing Director of Kaizen HR Solutions, here.

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