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Rust Belt Recruiting seeks to connect manufacturers with needed employees

Rust Belt Recruiting aims to serve as a partner to its clients, so employees spend time visiting manufacturers and getting to know their business.
Rust Belt Recruiting
Rust Belt Recruiting aims to serve as a partner to its clients, so employees spend time visiting manufacturers and getting to know their business.

Rust Belt Recruiting in Rocky River aims to connect manufacturers with the high-skilled employees they need in a challenging labor market.

The industrial recruiting firm got its start in late 2017. Its president and co-owner, Taylor Evans, had previously worked in both recruiting and manufacturing. The labor issues in the latter sector, including a looming wave of retirements that’s only been made worse by COVID-19, were no secret. Starting a recruiting firm focused on manufacturing was a business decision, but one that Evans said also feels like a “civic duty.”

If there isn’t a strong industrial base in the region, the next generation will leave, he said, whether they enter the field or not. Increased employment opportunities, Evans believes, lead to less crime and substance abuse and stronger family units.

“It goes so much further than the paycheck people have, than the products that they make,” Evans said.

That approach is “the pulse, the heartbeat” behind Rust Belt Recruiting, said Jenna Evans, Taylor Evans’ wife and fellow co-owner.

Rust Belt Recruiting provides recruitment and talent acquisition services for both production and professional roles at regional manufacturers.

Brenna Berry, program manager, said the company aims to take a “holistic and consultative approach” with its clients, serving as a partner. Its recruiters visit clients, learning what they do and what they really need. That might not always be what the clients think they need. Instead of a single welder, Berry said, a client might actually need an HR professional to help them acquire a team of welders and a process for hiring them.

Rust Belt Recruiting isn’t looking to find just any employee for manufacturers – it wants to help companies find the right fit for a role, serving as an alternative to temporary staffing.

Skilled manufacturing employees don’t want to work in temp jobs, Berry said; they want to be hired into a full-time role where they can have job security. Evans agreed, saying those employees aren’t going to leave an existing role for one where full-time employment isn’t guaranteed. Companies talk about how hard it is to hire skilled workers, he said, but then turn around and say they want to try employees out, treating them like a commodity.

“So, the companies that are winning in talent acquisition right now are the ones that say, ‘We want you,’” he said, adding that those companies are still putting potential employees through thorough recruiting processes to make sure they’re a fit.

Rust Belt, which has eight employees, serves clients within a 150-mile radius of Cleveland.

Helping clients identify and solve staffing problems

One of the companies Rust Belt Recruiting has worked with in recent years is steel service center Diamond Metals Distribution in Cleveland.

The company went through a “massive expansion” in 2018, doubling its square footage and adding about $2 million in new equipment, said Chief Financial Officer Sean Cwynar.

“And any time you add equipment and square footage, you need employees,” he said.

Cwynar joined Diamond Metals in 2019 and quickly realized there was a problem. The company had lots of space and new machinery, but not enough people to run it. Cwynar brought Rust Belt Recruiting in, and Evans encouraged him to look closer at the company’s turnover. That’s just what Diamond Metals did in late 2019 and into the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cwynar said.

At the time, Diamond Metals didn’t have a good sense of who its ideal candidates would be, or who its current top operators were. It’s an entry-level manufacturer, Cwynar said. Often in such companies, people start jobs with no prior experience. Sometimes, they’d quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the environment of a manufacturing facility.

So Diamond Metals changed its interview process to have people walk through the plant while they talked, giving them exposure up front.

“You go back to the basics,” Cwynar said.

Two men walking through an industrial shop
Rust Belt Recruiting
Rust Belt Recruiting aims to help manufacturers close the labor gap by matching them with the right employees, connecting high-skilled workers with long-term jobs.

As the economy began to emerge from the acute challenges caused by the pandemic, Diamond Metals was ready to bring on 25 to 30 employees. The company decided to let Rust Belt Recruiting do the work for them, having the recruiting company post openings, conduct interviews and hire candidates. Diamond Metals came in when it was time to train and employ the new hires.

With those employees, Diamond Metals was able to quickly scale up and have a record year in 2022, said Cwynar, who is now a member of Rust Belt’s advisory board.

Getting the help to hire those employees let Diamond Metals move away from a temp model of employment, and having Rust Belt Recruiting run the process meant employees weren’t being pulled away from the day-to-day to read through resumes and conduct interviews.

Adapting to the industry

Rust Belt Recruiting has continued to look at its own practices and evolve, adapting to the industry it serves. When the company began, clients would pay a portion of the hired employees’ first-year salaries to Rust Belt in a lump sum, which Evans said is a common pay structure in recruitment. Employees hired in that way are also guaranteed employment for a period of time. But companies often want to pay as they go, particularly for production roles, he said. That mimics the structure of pay for temporary staffing.

Taylor Evans
Rust Belt Recruiting
Taylor Evans, co-owner of Rust Belt Recruiting

“We didn’t want to be a temp agency, but we wanted to meet our clients where they were at," Evans said. “So we developed what’s called the direct staffing model.”

That model allows clients to pay as they go for each hire for 13 weeks, with billing stopping if a particular hire doesn’t work out. It’s a fixed rate based on the employee’s hourly wage.

That model now accounts for about half of the company’s revenue, Evans said. The other half is the more traditional direct-hire approach Rust Belt started with.

Evans jokes that he’s “unemployable,” but really, he likes being his own boss because he likes the variety in his day-to-day. He enjoys jumping from marketing to business development to finance to client development.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a good fit to just work in one seat all day, every day. My ideas are always spinning,” he said. “I’m always kind of coming up with concepts and ideas.”

Rachel Abbey McCafferty is a freelance reporter with 20 years of experience in journalism in Northeast Ohio.