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If you own and operate a factory, you know how hard it is to find qualified talent for your team. Consider the challenges facing the manufacturing industry and what must change for the next generation to fill ever-increasing worker shortages.


Acquiring employees in the manufacturing sector is more challenging now than it has ever been. HR professionals often have difficulty filling open positions for three reasons:

  1. A significant portion of the manufacturing workforce is nearing retirement age.
  2. There’s a shortage of skilled workers to replace retiring employees.
  3. Many young people have a negative perception of manufacturing that prevents them from pursuing a career in this industry.

Let’s examine these challenges more closely before exploring the possible solutions.

Aging Workforce

A Deloitte study from 2015 reports that 2.7 million manufacturing and industrial workers will retire in the next decade. At the same time, business growth and modernization is expected to create about 700,000 new jobs.

Despite the tremendous job opportunities in manufacturing, the new generation isn’t jumping on the chance to create a career in this industry. As a result, there could be a shortage of 2 million manufacturing employees within the next 10 years.

Skills Shortage

Working with a small talent pool is challenging enough, but even among those who show interest in manufacturing, there is a serious shortage of essential job skills. Deloitte reports that about 60 to 70 percent of candidates lack sufficient technical, computer, math, and problem-solving skills. As a result, 5 to 8.4 percent of manufacturing positions remain perpetually unfilled.

Even jobs that are eventually filled remain vacant for an average of 70 days. These lengthy vacancies cause the average US manufacturer to lose 11 percent of its annual earnings, or about $3,000 per existing employee.

High turnover is another issue with hiring from an unqualified talent pool. Employees may be motivated to leave a company for many reasons, not the least of which is poor job fit. If a candidate doesn’t have the inherent soft skills needed to succeed in manufacturing—such as curiosity, determination, punctuality, and social awareness—it doesn’t matter how much technical knowledge they have. It’s critical to hire the right people in the first place to ensure job satisfaction, promote company loyalty, and reduce turnover.

Negative Perceptions

Only a few generations ago, manufacturing was considered a great career path. Now, society tends to view blue-collar jobs as a low-ranking option. In fact, another survey by Deloitte found that manufacturing ranks last in career choices among Generation Y workers (ages 19 to 33). Plus, only one in three parents say they would encourage their child to pursue a manufacturing job.

It’s hard to generate enthusiasm about manufacturing because everyone is waiting for the next round of layoffs, the kind that turned thriving communities into ghost towns in the 70s and 80s. There’s also a misperception that manufacturing is “dirty, dumb, and dangerous” work. Overcoming the stigma is a tremendous challenge, but it must be done if the manufacturing industry has any hope of attracting and keeping qualified workers.


Manufacturing companies looking to acquire new talent must get creative in this tough labor market. The key to success is to adopt a three-step model:

  1. Change the perceptions surrounding the manufacturing industry.
  2. Build your talent pipeline in new ways.
  3. Create strategic partnerships to help you find and hire the right talent.
  4. Focus on the quality of life opportunities and long term lifestyle improvements these careers afford.

Here are some specific ways to incorporate this model into your hiring strategy.

Change Perceptions

The best way to change society’s opinions about manufacturing is to create an employer brand in your community as well as online. Here’s how:

  • Hold community events: Visit high school shop classes. Give presentations and workshops. Hold open houses at your company’s location. The goal is to build relationships by giving value. Your efforts will also show candidates how manufacturing is a modern, high-tech career with plenty of room for advancement.
  • Create an apprenticeship program: This acts as an on-ramp for anyone interested in a manufacturing career. When you give presentations about local job opportunities, be sure to direct applicants to your website. You might even provide a text-to-apply phone number to jumpstart the process.
  • Share stories of employees: Use social media as a platform to tell inspiring stories about employees who have completed apprenticeship programs and joined the company full-time.

Build Your Talent Pipeline

Change your mindset from “recruiting” to “building a talent pipeline.” Here’s who you might want to add to your team that you haven’t thought of before:

  • College and trade school students
  • Military veterans
  • Women
  • Single parents
  • The long-term unemployed
  • Residents of small rural communities
  • Subject matter experts who are already in the workforce

Create Strategic Partnerships

Sometimes, looking for candidates is too time-consuming to do on your own. Here’s how creating the right partnerships can help you build your talent pipeline:

  • Local community and technical colleges: Find schools with existing manufacturing programs or help create them through strategic partnerships.
  • State and county programs: Tell government leaders that you’re interested in hiring veterans, single parents, and unemployed individuals, and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
  • Recruitment companies: If filling the gaps on your team is a constant struggle, it can be hugely beneficial to work with a company that specializes in recruiting. These firms have unique access to talent pools, searching job boards, career websites, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other avenues for qualified candidates. By taking the guesswork out of talent acquisition, an employment agency can fill your vacant positions—not just with any candidates, but with the right

Talent Management Services by Progressive Reliability

The team at ProReli is here to help you connect with applicants who are eager to further their careers. Our employment agency specializes in the manufacturing and reliability industries, with tailored workforce solutions uniquely designed to help you outperform your peers. If you’re ready to begin finding the right qualified candidates for your team, please contact us today.

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