How to overcome the skills shortage by making your manufacturing jobs more attractive

By 2025, there will be an estimated 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs. Many of these will center around advancing technology, increasing the demand for highly skilled and specialized talent. Currently, we’re on track to fill only about 1.5 million of these jobs. This will leave us with a skills gap of about 2.1 million quality, well-paying jobs.

According to the same report, by 2030, an estimated 2.6 million Baby Boomers will retire from their jobs in manufacturing, further compounding the labor shortage. This is at a time when 89% of manufacturers in the U.S. are considering reshoring jobs in an effort to reduce the risk to their supply chains.

And here you are, with open jobs in a plant that smells like ammonia just a few dozen miles from a tech metropolis where employers promise hybrid work, flexible hours, and a range of perks big and small. How do you compete? Should you even try?

It will take a little creativity and elbow grease, but there is a way to make manufacturing appeal to a wide range of potential talent who have never considered the industry. Keep reading to find out how.

Read the 2021 workforce report for more in-depth hiring insights. 

You’re fighting an uphill battle for niche talent

Manufacturing plant assembly line

One of the big reasons workers aren’t drawn to manufacturing is because they believe factory floors are noisy, hot, and loud. It’s an outdated perception – yet often it’s true. Plus, younger workers tend to be drawn to the businesses “changing the world.” In other words, big recognizable tech logos with pretty language about leading the way into the future and making an impact.

That’s hard to compete with when you run industrial chemical plants, assemble polymer injection molds, or produce roof insulation. As the workforce shrinks and automation increases, you’re increasingly in direct competition with those “saving the world” types in tech cities around the world.

In fact, the hardest manufacturing roles to fill are engineers of all stripes, whose positions take double the time to fill as assemblers and fabricators. Engineers with the right skills can have their pick of where they want to work. You can fight a bidding war or you can change the conversation and appeal to their desire to build, design, and create.

Sure, the opportunity to create exists in the world of software. But what manufacturers create is physical, tangible, real. You won’t win them all, but there are plenty who are going to opt for the latter. You just have to know how to tell the right story.

Highlight meaning and purpose

Manufacturing worker

For manufacturers to compete going forward, they have to flip the script and highlight how they offer creative, innovative, and rewarding careers with the companies who build the world and keep the lights on.

Take the Creators Wanted campaign, for example. A partnership between the National Association of Manufacturers and Manufacturing Institute, Creators Wanted aims to:

  • Reduce the skills gap in the U.S. by 600,000
  • Increase enrollment in technical and vocational schools and reskilling programs by 25%
  • Raise positive perception of the industry among parents to 50% from its current level at 27%

Creators Wanted uses storytelling to fight the perception that manufacturing is tedious and unglamorous. The campaign looks beyond big names and logos and recasts the industry as the unsung hero of modern life and the economy.

We all remember the Great Toilet Paper Crunch of 2020. Panic buying set in, and shelves all over the U.S. emptied. Creators Wanted tells the story of how manufacturers stepped up and found creative ways to get product back on shelves despite pandemic restrictions and strained supply lines.

The message is a simple one: a career in manufacturing is essential and creative. You’ll get the opportunity to problem-solve and do something that makes a difference.

That matters when you consider that 87% of Americans say having pride in the company they work for is important to them, according to a LinkedIn report. Having a positive impact on society – while somewhat subjective – is one of their top priorities.

Shift from a focus on retention to attraction

Manufacturing worker operating heavy machinery

Manufacturers are struggling to find new workers. That much is true. But if we’re honest, they haven’t really had to worry much until now. That’s not to downplay the significant challenges in hiring manufacturing talent. The growing skills gap has been a slow-moving crisis.

As a whole, manufacturing has never really struggled with retention. This means they haven’t ever had to recruit on the same scale as retail or healthcare. In those industries, turnover is high, and workers are more willing to change employers for marginal pay increases.

Success with retention is due partly to generational and geographical factors. A lot of manufacturing employees are Baby Boomers. Overall, they may be more inclined to stick around for the job security and solid benefits that careers in manufacturing typically offer.

Given a long enough timeline, retention is always going to be a losing battle. However hard you hang on, your employees are eventually going to retire. Your noisy production floors will get a lot quieter in the next few years unless you can replace the life-long employees after they decide to step back and kick up their feet in the sun.

It’s time to start thinking about how you can attract younger candidates.

Connect to what drives younger workers

Two manufacturing workers operating machinery

Millennial workers are different. At this point in their professional lives, many are driven by climbing the career ladder quickly. For some, this means job-hopping until they reach a more senior level. The challenge is convincing them manufacturing offers the chance at a successful career.

There are also the youngest workers to consider, Generation Z, the oldest of whom are just starting to graduate and enter the workforce. The pandemic has scrapped their plans and delayed others. As a result, recent grads may be more open-minded and pragmatic about finding a job today than they were just a few years ago.

According to our Class of 2021 report: “Students in all markets are increasing the number and type of jobs they apply for in response to the pandemic and economic uncertainty.” This presents an opportunity to pull in talented candidates who care more about working than where they work, at least for the time being.

These workers don’t remember a time before smartphones. They also started to enter the workforce at a time when “essential workers” were finding themselves in the spotlight.

It may seem counterintuitive, but if there was ever going to be a generation primed for the message that manufacturing offers a creative, fulfilling career doing honest work that benefits their communities and needs to be done, this is it.

Ready for more hiring insights?

Check out our 2021 workforce report for in-depth insight and analysis on the trends shaping the post-pandemic labor market.

Download the Class of 2021 report here

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