How to Address Manufacturing’s Identity Crisis and Attract Talent

Dingy, smoky, opaque air. Echoes of metal parts clanging and clashing. A quieted fear for your life and limbs as you move from one danger-ridden task to another.

When conjuring a manufacturing work environment, these images are likely to come to mind and have contributed to the industry’s less-than-pleasant identity since as far back as the Industrial Revolution. 

Although the economy may be experiencing a comeback as we ease out of the pandemic, factories and facilities that produce, package, and distribute Americans’ necessities are facing a setback: a labor shortage.

A recent study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) found that manufacturers are struggling to find workers, with 77% “anticipating ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers in 2021 and beyond.” Currently, there are approximately 500,000 job openings in the industry.

The negative images commonly associated with manufacturing jobs may discourage job seekers from applying. In order to overcome this obstacle, manufacturers will need to devise a sort-of PR strategy to help job seekers get a more realistic look into what modern-day manufacturing jobs are like and eventually view the industry as a desirable career path.

What Is Manufacturing’s Image Problem?

History books depict the Industrial Revolution as dingy, unsafe environments where workers are covered with dirt and debris, wear very little protective gear, and make meager wages. This may be one of the first instances where students are exposed to the idea of working in the manufacturing industry. But the modern world of manufacturing has evolved greatly and now features more technology-based tasks, strictly enforced safety laws, and requires skills that may surpass those of entry-level positions. 

Manufacturing jobs also have a bad reputation for high turnover, and with the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics, those who held manufacturing positions pre-pandemic may not see value in returning to jobs that may become obsolete in the near future. 

How Is It Impacting Jobs?

All levels of candidates have their own preconceived ideas about manufacturing jobs: Entry-level job seekers may fear they don’t have the adequate skills or training to qualify, while skilled workers may view such positions as beneath their expertise. The result of both viewpoints is a wanting application rate.

How Can Manufacturing Improve Its Image and Attract More Workers?

To attract hourly workers, manufacturers need to convince these populations that today’s manufacturing jobs are clean, safe, and offer both high pay and a clear path for advancement. 

As the industry embarks on a digital transformation, manufacturers may need to update their role nomenclature and responsibilities to prepare for a new slate of personas. Per the Deloitte and MI report, “Manufacturers should balance the need to cultivate innate human capabilities while reskilling their workforce with digital skills to satisfy the emerging new roles in manufacturing production.”

Entry-level job descriptions should state prominently that technical skills and industry knowledge are not required for positions like product assemblers and production work helpers. Instead, applicants should be able to follow directions and have a willingness to learn and follow through. The aforementioned report from Deloitte and MI analyzed the fastest-growing manufacturing jobs during the next 10 years, and five out of six of these do not require formal postsecondary education. 

Emphasizing the benefits and wages also can help attract unsure applicants. According to MI, starting pay for entry-level manufacturing jobs is $15 an hour, and salaried workers can earn an average of $84,000 per year plus benefits.

To nurture the next generation of manufacturing workers, consider partnering with local schools and invite students to visit for tours and other events like National Manufacturing Day each October.



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