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

February 24, 2021
7 min read

More than 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs may go unfilled by the year 2030, according to a report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. This future staffing crisis has its roots in the present. The industry maintained more than half a million job openings in 2023.

Manufacturing leaders feel this crisis acutely. In the 2023 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, 72% of manufacturers cited the inability to attract and retain employees as their primary challenge.

This challenge isn’t a new one. When the COVID pandemic hit, closures erased nearly 1.4 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S., “undoing more than a decade of manufacturing job gains,” according to Deloitte. The industry hired back 820,000 of those jobs by the final months of 2020. But the remaining employment gap persists.

The job openings created in 2020 will be augmented by industry growth and a retiring workforce. These two factors are expected to generate 4 million manufacturing jobs to be filled between 2020 and 2030. According to the Deloitte analysis, 1.9 million of these jobs are expected to be filled, leaving 2.1 million on the table.

The impact of this staffing challenge will be felt broadly. Should these jobs go unfilled, it could “bring a potential negative impact to the U.S. economy of more than $1 trillion by 2030 alone,” the report said. And as for the industry itself? Nearly 80% of executives said subpar staffing levels could have a moderate to very high impact on business outcomes such as production levels, development and innovation and rolling out new technology.

It’s no surprise, then, that manufacturers feel a sense of urgency when it comes to developing strategies to find and retain talent. The staffing issues they face today are predicted to grow much worse, and the challenges must be addressed now to prevent a crisis in the future.

To help attract and retain good workers, HR recruiters can leverage applicant tracking systems (ATS) to improve their perception among applicants, build their talent pools, assess applicants’ problem-solving skills and help hires advance in their careers.


What candidates don’t know about manufacturing jobs

The gap in manufacturing talent raises an important question for the industry: Why does it persist? The answer to this question is complex. There are several reasons why so many positions are going unfilled, according to a 2022 study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

One of the most important reasons is a poor perception of manufacturing among potential workers. While perception has improved in the last decade, a limited understanding of the benefits of a manufacturing career may exacerbate the industry’s talent frustrations.

The study found that current manufacturing misperceptions largely stem from a lack of familiarity with the industry. For instance, 66% of respondents familiar with manufacturing said they believed that entry-level manufacturing gigs pay more than similar jobs in other industries. Only 34% of respondents unfamiliar with manufacturing said the same thing. A similar gap in perception existed between respondents familiar and unfamiliar with the industry when they were asked whether they thought manufacturing jobs were safe and clean, were stable career opportunities and were good opportunities for advancement.

The perception gap is causing real damage to manufacturers that are trying to get enough workers in the door. This challenge is true for entry-level positions, which require no technical skill or industry knowledge and are paid well above the federal minimum wage, Deloitte said.

But the challenge persists among more skilled roles, too. These positions often require hands-on experience and applied training, which can take months to complete.

As manufacturers battle perceptions misaligned with reality, they’re also grappling with a growing skills gap. According to a 2022 report from The Manufacturing Institute, manufacturers across every sector need three major skills to guarantee future success: data analytics, agile mindset, problem-solving and critical thinking and interpersonal skills.


4 ways HR can use recruiting software to hire manufacturing talent

Provide video ’employment previews’

Manufacturing employers are battling the double challenge of correcting widespread misperceptions and finding skilled talent. They need to tap strategies that speak to both of these issues — strategies that highlight what opportunities are available, what those opportunities look like, and how those opportunities might advance a job seeker’s career.

Video testimonials accomplish these tasks while keeping costs low and boosting employee morale. Informal footage of current employees mimics the short-form video content applicants see all over social media. In other words, it’s the kind of content that will actually get their attention.

These short videos will help viewers understand what it’s like to work a given manufacturing job. Manufacturers should make sure they highlight a variety of employees, taking the opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of talent within their workforce. This will help manufacturers attract more women, veterans and other underrepresented populations — a vital strategy in attracting more workers to fill the talent gap.

With tools such as iCIMS Video Studio, manufacturing employers can spotlight employees and mobilize brand ambassadors to share stories of workplace success and illustrate company culture. A skilled welder, for instance, may talk about what her daily life at work involves. She might discuss how she got her job and what she enjoys most about her post and her company.

Videos like this one can be used across social media and throughout marketing campaigns. They add intrigue and fascination to career sites, job descriptions and email and text campaigns.

Consider how the chemical company Celanese uses iCIMS Video Studio to create quick, unscripted and authentic content that helps job seekers feel connected to their mission, vision and values. With iCIMS Video Studio and other iCIMS tools, Celanese has boosted talent pool diversity by 77%.

Do comprehensive talent assessments

As manufacturers boost their applicant numbers, they’ll want to consider adjusting their hiring processes to find the most skilled talent available. With prehire assessment tools, employers can find the talent that most aligns with the skill profile they need. More than half of organizations use prehire assessments to achieve high-volume hiring, according to a 2023 report from the HR Research Institute.

The key to these assessments, according to the report, is designing tests that are both fully compliant and nondiscriminatory and detailed so that they reveal the maximum amount of information about an applicant’s skill set.

In the manufacturing context, preemployment tests may help recruiters understand not only what technical skills an applicant possesses but also what soft skills they bring to the table. As one leader stated in The Manufacturing Institute’s report on the future of the industry’s skills gap, soft skills are indispensable to manufacturing. “Soft skills are vitally important to our business,” said the General Motors executive. “Manufacturing is a people business and we need leaders that can connect with people.”

Tools like iCIMS SkillSurvey go a step further than most preemployment assessments and use references to assess candidates’ hard and soft skills.

Recruitment marketing automation

To grow and hone a robust talent pool of skilled applicants, manufacturers need tactics that make recruitment easy and effective. Marketing automation allows recruiters to build a pipeline of new and diverse talent by leveraging technology that nurtures candidates and automates recruiters’ workloads at the same time.

Automated emails are one of the hallmarks of recruitment marketing. As job seekers interact with a brand, automated emails that are personalized by lead score and activity customize their experience. For example, candidates who open an email with a new job alert can receive a second automated email with a prompt to get in touch with a recruiter.

Recruitment marketing tech also notifies recruiters when a lead is ready to move forward, saving them time and energy so they can spend it on what matters most — building relationships with excellent candidates and building out strategic plans that make their department stronger.

These tools also allow employers to keep passive talent engaged. With recruitment marketing tech, employers can cultivate a talent community comprised of job seekers who are interested in their brand but are not yet ready to come onboard. An automated newsletter will keep members up to date on company news, job opportunities and more.

Consider how Master Electronics used automated recruitment marketing tools to support mass hiring in its distribution center, which grew by 150% during the pandemic.

Develop the skills of existing employees

Manufacturers’ efforts to secure more skilled talent will be pointless if they aren’t paired with a robust framework to develop the skills of new and existing employees.

As an economist with the National Association of Manufacturers told trade publication Manufacturing Dive: “There’s no such thing as a low skilled job in manufacturing anymore … To really thrive, we’re going to need continuous learning and upskilling.”

Upskilling initiatives will not only help retain workers — they’ll attract talent who are invested in their careers and want to learn and grow in their profession.

This effort will also work to correct the perception gap plaguing manufacturing. According to the 2022 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 58% of respondents said they think manufacturing offers limited career prospects. Of these respondents, 81% said they would consider a manufacturing career if they saw clearer pathways for career progression. And 79% would do so if they received more personalized or customized training.

Employers that establish a culture of internal mobility will better showcase employment and growth opportunities. Within and outside the industry, there’s a growing trend toward developing internal talent, which is reflected in software tools. iCIMS Opportunity Marketplace not only attracts, engages and wins talent – it prioritizes internal talent mobility platforms as employers and employees grow.


Manufacturing talent solutions

From building a compelling employer brand to retaining and upskilling current staff, there’s a lot recruiters can do to find the manufacturing talent they need. Flexible, scalable hiring solutions play a big part. Learn more about recruiting software solutions for manufacturers here.

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About the author

Alex Oliver

Alex is well-versed in content and digital marketing. He blends a passion for sharp, persuasive copy with creating intuitive user experiences on the web. A natural storyteller, Alex highlights customer successes and amplifies their best practices.

Alex earned his bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University before pursuing his master’s at Montclair State University. When not at work, Alex enjoys hiking, studying history and homebrewing beer.

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