How to Staff Your Cleanroom with Skilled Assembly Workers

two people wearing white hazmat suits and masks

In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, the labor pool for cleanroom techs saw a rapid reshuffling. Demand for talent in many industries — often related to elective medical procedures — decreased. This lull was offset by explosive growth in need for essential supplies. 

Elite cleanroom talent was reabsorbed into the workforce. Though as elective procedures gradually return, a hiring crunch could be in the works.

Now is a great time to be strategic about hiring cleanroom talent and broadening your applicant pools. We spoke to Aerotek Account Manager Amber Worton for advice on how — and when — to expand your horizons when hiring for the cleanroom.

Hire cleanroom assemblers based on the production process 

Prior cleanroom experience might not be necessary for hiring capable assembly techs. It all depends on the assembly task at hand.

Some assembly processes, such as those found in Pharma, may involve less intensive assembly skills. These may be a perfect fit for candidates with a Good Manufacturing Practices environment background, but no cleanroom experience.

As Worton says, “Sometimes you’re looking for a purple squirrel — rare, super specialized talent that’s incredibly hard to find — but sometimes you can find ways to open up the candidate pool while maintaining production quotas.”

Not every process in a diversified product portfolio requires assembly talent with extensive cleanroom experience. Consider labor availability as a key strategic factor in evaluating product viability.

Use all available tools to identify priority candidates

While it’s always a good idea to base ideal cleanroom tech candidate qualifications on the assembly process, identifying key characteristics can be a trickier proposition. 

Some priority “hard” skills show up on a resume or application. 

Candidates with cleanroom experience are an obvious high-priority profile. Those without cleanroom experience, but who have attained IPC-610 or J-STD certifications for assembly work should also be considered priority candidates. Good Manufacturing Processes or FDA-regulated food handling experience are also promising signs. These experiences show an ability to adhere to more rigorous protocols. For processes that require elite manual dexterity, look for printed circuit board and electronics assembly experience. 

“Standard operating procedures are super important,” says Worton. “Some candidates are good at following them, some not.” 

Regardless of prior experience, successful cleanroom techs must perform well with PPE such as gowns, hair nets, masks, eye protection and gloves. Screening candidates for the ability to follow directions will help to maintain a sterile field.

Anticipate a tightening labor market 

As the demand for elective medical procedures returns, the number of available cleanroom assembly candidates is likely to diminish.

Cleanroom employers can get ahead of this trend in two ways. First, concentrate on candidate attraction. Pay is the most obvious differentiator, and quality training on new processes is not far behind. But don’t discount the excitement generated by the nature of the work itself. 

“Skilled workers get excited by the opportunity to work on life-saving tech,” says Worton.

Second, employers should also stay ahead of the curve of a tightening labor market by focusing on retention. This means putting cleanroom assemblers in a position to succeed. Establish initiatives such as staggered training, longer hiring ramps, and phased employee development.

“You can pretty much train anybody with the right background, but it takes time,” says Worton. “It’s best to be gradual and intentional.”

As elective medical devices and implants return, you can ramp up production in response to the market. This can also help with applicant pool expansion. If a new hire shines on simple assembly projects, he or she can move up to a more complex product.

As the labor pool tightens, lean on your staffing partner for familiarity with this market and skill set. 

Cleanroom assembly is a niche skill set. You’ll want to work with a partner who speaks the language and understands the applicant pool.

To start a conversation about how to find the right candidates for your specific needs, reach out to Aerotek.