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The right recruiting software can help you overcome the manufacturing talent shortage. Here's how.

February 24, 2021
9 min read

A negative perception of what it’s like to work in manufacturing is a big reason employers find it hard to fill their manufacturing jobs with qualified employees. To help attract and retain good workers, HR recruiters can leverage applicant tracking systems (ATS) to test applicants for problem-solving skills, educate job seekers about the realities of modern manufacturing, and help them advance in their careers once hired.

In 2015, 84% of executives surveyed agreed there was a talent shortage in the U.S. manufacturing industry, according to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. In a follow-on study in 2018, that number had risen by five points to 89%. The 2018 survey pinpointed three main reasons for the skills gap:

  • Misperceptions of manufacturing jobs
  • Shifting skill sets due to the introduction of advanced technologies
  • Retirement of baby boomers

According to Deloitte, manufacturing ranks last as a career choice among Generation Y respondents aged 19 to 33. Only one in three parents say they would encourage their child to pursue a career in manufacturing.

A survey by the SME also found abundant negative perceptions among parents. Almost one-quarter of parents surveyed don’t think that manufacturing is a good-paying profession. More than 20% view manufacturing as an outdated and dirty work environment and nearly half don’t consider manufacturing to be an “exciting, challenging, or engaging profession.”

What candidates don’t know about manufacturing jobs

Manufacturing jobs today defy lingering stereotypes of being “dirty, dark, and dangerous.” Manufacturing environments in the US are highly regulated, and many resemble clean labs.

On the plus side, manufacturing provides career opportunities at just about every level of education and training, from positions demanding a high school diploma or GED only, to engineering and programming jobs calling for a bachelor’s or master’s college degrees, to scientists who need PhDs.

Pay levels vary markedly, though. A factory worker’s hourly wage amounts to $13.06, translating to just over $27,000 per year for a 40 hour week. However, skilled welders average $22.62 hourly, according to Better still, the average base salary of a manufacturing engineer is $82,697, and engineers with expertise in areas such as root cause analysis can earn significantly more.

Many high-paying manufacturing jobs tend to be very specialized and can be challenging to fill. However, entry-level jobs are taking on new dimensions.

In Deloitte’s 2018 survey, manufacturing executives reported that the top five skill sets expected to increase significantly in the next few years are:

  • Technology/computer skills
  • Digital skills
  • Programming skills for robots/automation
  • Working with tools and technology
  • Critical thinking skills

“The industry seems to be quickly moving to a future where automation is embedded across functions, and humans may need to work alongside robots and machines to deliver higher productivity in new directions,” according to the report.

Covid-19 changed the skills manufacturers need

Humans already work side-by-side with robots at some companies. However, this trend is accelerating as Covid-19 puts restrictions on working conditions and the number of personnel who can be on the floor at any one time.

“Manufacturing jobs often require people to work side by side, a significant hurdle when businesses want their employees to practice physical distancing. There were several COVID-19 clusters in meatpacking and poultry processing facilities earlier in the pandemic, which may have led some workers to leave the industry,” notes the AARP.

“Apparel manufacturing businesses notably shed jobs. With more people working from home and not going out at night, the need for new, stylish clothing took a dip.”

Manufacturing has been among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of job loss. From December 2019 to December 2020, the unemployment rate increased from 3.3% to 5.1% in jobs manufacturing food, clothing, and other goods.

Despite high unemployment rates from the pandemic, executives of manufacturing firms still say they feel starved for human talent, according to SHRM.

Here are 4 ways HR can use ATS recruiting software to hire the manufacturing talent they need

Do comprehensive talent assessments

According to a report by the American Management Association (AMA), the number of employers conducting pre-employment testing is rising. A full 70% of employers do job skill testing at some point during the hiring process. Another 46% of employers perform personality or psychological testing, while 41% test for literacy and math aptitude.

Conducting appropriate testing can boost both productivity and retention. A study by Gallup determined that companies that chose the top 20% of applicants based on talent assessments improved productivity by 10% and reduced turnover by 10%.

While testing for job skills, personality traits, and math and literacy are essential, employers in the manufacturing industry also need “soft skills” in problem-solving and critical thinking.

Evan Stall, an HR manager for Federal-Mogul Powertrain, prioritized problem-solving skills when hiring 13 foundry operator positions.

“The foundry operator is responsible for looking for defects and keeping [the machine] going. I’m not looking for people with big muscles who can pump aluminum all day. I’m looking for people who possess problem-solving skills,” Stall said in an interview with SHRM magazine.

Testing companies have heeded this need by coming out with tests that measure talents such as problem-solving and critical thinking. iCIMS talent acquisition software makes it simple for recruiters to view results by integrating these tests directly into the ATS, eliminating the need to toggle back and forth between systems.

You might find that you want to use skills assessment tools from multiple vendors. For example, using a problem-solving test from one company with literacy and math aptitude measurement tools from another vendor.

iCIMS recently introduced talent assessments within its applicant tracking system that allows recruiters to assess candidates’ communication skills through verbal and written tests in ten different languages.

Provide video ’employment previews’

It’s easy enough to overcome negative preconceptions about manufacturing careers by showing would-be candidates what working in the field is actually like. Before the pandemic, many employers invited young, entry-level talent for tours of their manufacturing facilities.

With requirements in place for social distancing, these kinds of tours are more challenging to pull off. However, you can give potential workers a taste of what working at your organization is like by providing video testimonials recorded by your employees.

iCIMS recently introduced its Video Studio product that facilitates video storytelling, helping you differentiate your company from others in your industry and amplify candidate reach and conversion.

With iCIMS Video Studio, you can spotlight employees and mobilize brand ambassadors to share stories and convey your company’s culture. In a video job preview, a skilled welder or a manufacturing engineer might talk about what they do on the job, how they got to where they are, and what they enjoy most about working for your company.

The videos can be easily added to career sites, job descriptions housed in your ATS, social media, text campaigns, and emails, all without leaving the iCIMS Talent Cloud.

Conduct virtual job fairs

Real-world job fairs are another recruitment tool put on hold while the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, you don’t need to cancel your job recruitment events; pivot to virtual events instead.

Chatbots can be a particularly effective way of nurturing job seekers who haven’t yet decided to apply to your company. Interactions between job seekers and chatbots can happen on a 24/7 basis. During work hours, recruiters can jump in and out of conversations and follow up with candidates who seem promising.

iCIMS Digital Assistant is a recruitment chatbot that can answer frequently asked questions, help job applicants fill out application forms, and schedule interviews. The chatbot is entirely customizable, too. You can give your chatbot whatever personality you want to represent your brand.

Implement job succession planning

In a 2017 study by Decision-wise, manufacturing showed the lowest percentage of engaged employees at 76.2%, behind professional services, finance, technology, and healthcare.

Tools like videos and chatbots can help boost engagement during the hiring process while also correcting any misconceptions that manufacturing is behind the times when it comes to technology.

To retain qualified employees, however, you must also keep them engaged after they’ve been hired. One study by Aberdeen found that the top reasons employees stay with a company is a strong alignment between their career goals and management’s objectives, visible career tracks, and training and development opportunities. In other words, employees who stick around are engaged because they see room to grow professionally and the training and planning to back it up.

Succession planning showcases employment growth opportunities. Historically, manufacturing companies have invested much more in succession programs for salaried employees than for hourly workers. There’s evidence, though, that this pattern started to change even before the pandemic.

For example, EJ Ajax Metalforming Solutions found a creative way to help workers visualize how they can advance in the company. They did this by posting a skills matrix on a bulletin board that lists all the machines and tasks required for each department. Ajax also established a state-approved apprenticeship program that enables veterans to work full-time and use their military education benefits to go to college part-time.

There’s a big trend toward developing internal talent, and this is reflected in software tools. With the iCIMS Talent Cloud, the emphasis is not just on attracting, engaging, and hiring talent – it also prioritizes internal talent mobility platforms as they grow. As of October 2020, some 20% of iCIMS customers were already using the platform to advance talent.

Employers don’t overlook internal candidates with the Talent Cloud because employee information transfers seamlessly between their ATS and HCM. Additionally, internal employees can see best-fit roles and new opportunities on internal career sites, and leverage chatbots to recommend open opportunities based on their talent profile and tenure.


To learn more about how the iCIMS Talent Cloud can assist your organization with talent recruitment and retention, schedule a live demo here.

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Emily McMichael

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