With Baby Boomers retiring in greater numbers each year and recruitment not keeping up, manufacturing companies are finding themselves battling a growing talent gap. In fact, according to a recent Deloitte report, more than 80% of US manufacturers are struggling to recruit the personnel they need.
The fact that many companies are integrating new manufacturing technologies, changing the skill sets needed to meet consumer demands, makes this talent gap even wider. The factory job titles of yesterday will be very different from the ones tomorrow. Emerging technologies like robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and advanced analytics are increasingly used throughout production lifecycles.
Advanced manufacturing methods require tech-savvy workers with high-level science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. Yet, with STEM education falling behind in the United States and stiff competition for talent, up to 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled over the next decade.
The good news is that manufacturing companies are poised to overcome these challenges. In order to recruit manufacturing employees in the present and in the future, here are four keys to conquering the manufacturing talent gap:
Preserve the knowledge of retiring workers
According to Deloitte, 2.7 million Baby Boomers will retire from the U.S. manufacturing industry by 2025. With this in mind, the most pressing need for manufacturers is to preserve and pass on the wisdom these seasoned workers have gained from decades of experience.
Succession planning should include mentorship programs and the use of technology to train workers joining your team. In mentorship programs, early career workers can complete training programs under the guidance of company veterans to learn tricks of the trade and diversify their skills sets.
Implement mentorship and rotational programs
Mentorship programs can be conducted one-on-one, with group classes, or online, and can last up to two years. Boeing’s mentorship programs are a successful example. Under Boeing’s engineering rotational program, young engineers develop their skills by working with new teams every six months on projects at different points in the product lifecycle. Participants may have the chance to complete assignments in technology development, product definition, hardware/software support, and more. This gives young staff the opportunity to become familiar with a wide range of processes and people early in their career.
In an effort to develop the next generation of organizational leaders, many companies are finding it useful to develop cross-functional mentorship programs. These programs give future leaders the chance to complete rotations in a number of key business areas like sales, commercial operations, product management, or application engineering.
Incentivize participation of senior staff
To make the most of their staff’s collective wisdom, manufacturers may have to incentivize tenured workers to participate in new mentorship programs. You can offer both financial and intrinsic rewards, such as conditional cash stipends and “best mentor” recognition awards. Also consider providing company tablets, laptops, or smartphones to facilitate program development and execution. Not only is this an added perk for your employees, but it will help push along the integration of technology into your company fabric.
Successful mentorship programs have been shown to increase retention rates for new hires and decrease the amount of time required for them to become fully productive team members.
Dispel misconceptions and prepare the next generation of workers
Today’s manufacturing environment requires workers with STEM skills. Unfortunately, according to ACT Data, only 21% of graduating U.S. high school students meet the benchmark for STEM proficiency. This suggests a significant deficiency of students equipped for STEM opportunities in the workplace.
There are also persistent notions among the public that manufacturing jobs are “low-skill” or “low-tech” and that there is little room for career growth. But this simply isn’t true.
The manufacturing industry is the single largest investor in robotics technology and performs more than three-quarters of all private sector R&D. What’s more, manufacturing professions have one of the highest average national salaries at over $81,000 annually.
Get the word out
Manufacturing companies can dispel these common misconceptions through public relations campaigns and public-private partnerships (PPP). For example, they can work with community high schools, universities, and vocational schools to offer work experiences and training opportunities to local students. This can help foster a better understanding of modern manufacturing. Companies can also host networking events for educators and senior employees to build relationships, update curricula, and develop talent pipelines.
Other forms of partnership could include the following:
- On-site and virtual tours
- Guest lectures
- Research grants
- Student prototyping competitions
- Internships and immersion experiences
To employ a diverse workforce, manufacturers should create practical pathways for career changers and people of non-STEM backgrounds to join the manufacturing world —including young people that will make up their next generation of workers.
Understand evolving market realities and career expectations
Millennials already make up the largest segment of the U.S. labor force, and by 2020 they will make up more than 50% of the working population.
As such, it’s high time for businesses to get to know this generation’s preferences, values, and concerns.
Remember, Millennials are accustomed to instant access to information and swift communication through multiple platforms and devices. Many Millennials also grew up with highly structured home and school environments. In addition, a large portion of this generation came of age during or surrounding the Great Recession, which, in combination with digital disruption, has altered the relationship between employers and employees.
This upbringing has informed Millennial workplace expectations:
- Millennials expect technology powered training and communication
- Millennials do not tolerate ambiguity and expect clear instruction and goals
- Millennials prefer quick processes and frequent feedback
- Millennials want independence to use creativity and thrive working in small teams
Like other generations, Millennials want wage growth, benefits, career advancement, and most of all, purposeful work. However, as a result of rigid corporate hierarchies and shifting economic conditions, this generation is more likely to seek out a new employer every couple of years in pursuit of these career goals.
Recruit and retain Millennials
Based on their experiences, Millennials are less trusting of companies. To overcome this, manufacturers will have to develop a culture of inclusion, invest in their employees, and create clear paths for career growth.
A culture of inclusion
Pursue a more open culture of participation. Wherever possible, accept input from employees in decision-making processes. Allow employees to work in small teams across departments and assign them meaningful work in line with your company’s long-term business ambitions.
Invest in your employees
Millennials want personal and professional development. According to PwC, 74% of young workers are ready to re-train or learn new skills for their career.
With this in mind, manufacturers can create up-skill programs and allocate funding for continued employee education, especially in digital tools and modern technologies such as cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing (known as the fourth Industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0). A policy allowing employees to take time off work for personal and professional enrichment shows them you are investing in their future. After training programs, encourage employees to share their insights with colleagues when they return.
Manufacturers also need to present clearly defined paths for career advancement if they hope to retain Millennial workers. Young workers expect managers to regularly check-in and let them know how they are progressing. Quarterly goals and career milestones can help create a sense of professional growth. In addition, visible career advancement support can include:
- Performance and developmental feedback
- Opportunities for recognition and high-value assignments
- Expanding benefits and time off
- Regular salary reviews
Millennial career ambitions are not all that different from other generations, and once you understand their strengths and expectations, they can become an important force of change in your organization.
A cycle of technology adoption to drive recruitment and change
According to a Microsoft and SurveyMonkey poll, 93% of millennials consider having up-to-date technology an important factor when choosing a job.
That’s why it’s crucial for manufacturers to continue integrating technology to create more efficient communication and opportunities for employees to perform creative and cognitive tasks. As organizations transform their manufacturing processes with technology, it will be easier to attract young, tech-savvy employees who are looking for these exciting opportunities.
At the same time, diversifying your workforce with digital natives will drive technology transformation within your organization. According to Deloitte, individuals generally embrace new innovations faster than organizations, so you can count on young workers to request technologies in the workplace that they are already using in their personal lives. Manufacturers should strive to create a cycle of technology adoption to attract talent and encourage it to drive organizational change through digital transformation.
To attract tech-savvy talent, manufacturers are not only integrating more digital technologies into production processes but directly into recruitment efforts as well. General Mills, for example, uses a virtual reality experience to give candidates a realistic look at what it would be like to live in Minneapolis and work at the company headquarters. Recruiting strategies like this demonstrates a commitment to digital transformation and creates opportunities to share more about your company’s use of technology.
Seize the future of manufacturing
There can be no doubt that talent is one of the key ingredients to remaining competitive in manufacturing, especially as technological innovations make new winners and losers.
To be one of the winners, manufacturing companies need to:
- Leverage technology and mentorship programs to preserve the knowledge of retiring workers.
- Engage with communities and pursue public-private partnerships to prepare the next generation of employees
- Adjust their practices, processes, and culture to recruit and retain a younger generation of workers.
- Create a cycle of technology adoption to attract talent, and workforce diversification to drive organizational change through digital transformation.
Over the coming decade, manufacturers will continue to compete with each other and other industries to attract skilled workers. Organizations that make early investments in digital transformation will have an advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent. Employing a diverse and skilled workforce will provide a competitive edge, now and in the future.
While challenges remain to conquer the talent gap, new technological innovations and workforce changes mean the time to seize the future of manufacturing is now.