Don’t Believe the Hype: Manufacturing Workers Are Still in High Demand

In the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) September job’s report, manufacturers across the country have reported that they cut roughly 2,000 jobs last month, which is causing some to ring the alarm bells.


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“The most worrying figure in the jobs report is the overall decline in manufacturing employment,” says Julia Pollak, a labor economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter, in an article on Markets Insider. “In 2018, manufacturing workers saw their opportunities expand and their wages rise. In 2019, by contrast, manufacturing workers are worrying about the prospect of pink slips.”

However, don’t believe that hype just yet! QuickBooks by Intuit recently conducted a survey of over 1,067 manufacturing executives and hiring managers to understand this perceived “crisis.” And according to its results, the reports of a manufacturing crisis may be premature.

Crisis Averted?

QuickBooks admits that manufacturing hiring has slowed down, but on the bright side, it reports that “78% of those surveyed still have plans to hire more skilled workers within the next year, with only 10% answering that they would not hire more skilled employees.”

Of those not planning to hire within the next year, 37% said they expected business to hold steady, with no growth and no decline, while 25% “forecasted slower demand in the near-term, and another 25% listed hiring budget as a limiting factor,” says Ben Oliveri in a blog post for QuickBooks.

As recession talk heats up, these fears are impacting 13% of respondents, who have curbed their company’s hiring intentions in preparation for a potential recession. Additionally, the trade war with China has caused 13% of respondents to stop hiring, saying that tariff concerns are the main reason why.

And while workers continue to have fears that artificial intelligence (AI) will steal their jobs, QuickBooks finds that the “human” element is still very much needed in the manufacturing industry. The survey offers these three positions as the most in-demand roles available in the industry:

  • Production supervisor
  • Machinist
  • Picker/packer

Unfortunately, these roles often remain open because employers report that it is difficult to find workers who possess the specific skills required to succeed in the manufacturing industry. According to the survey data, 42% of manufacturers are finding it “moderately difficult” to hire skilled workers, and Intuit speculates that given the current hiring landscape, employers will continue to report difficulty in hiring skilled labor.

What Skills Are Needed?

Almost half of manufacturing employers report how difficult it is to find skilled talent, but what skills are candidates missing? Intuit’s survey finds that soft skills—like problem solving and critical thinking—are in short supply, reported by 44% of respondents. “This was followed by technical training (23%) and computer and technology skills (20%),” says Oliveri.

And because soft skills are in short supply, this is causing the hiring process to be long and drawn out. According to 48% of respondents, “on average it takes 3-4 weeks to fill a skilled manufacturing position. 19% of respondents were able to fill vacancies within 1-2 weeks, while another 22% required 2-3 months to fill skilled positions.”

As we know, a speedy hiring process will help you win the war for talent, but if you can’t find that labor you need, obviously those roles are going to stay open for quite some time. “How quickly employers are able to fill skilled vacancies is dependent on local economic conditions and the regional talent pool, but also the strength of their communication strategy, whether or not they have invested in developing a talent pipeline, and the appeal of their company culture and compensation package,” suggests Oliveri.

4 Tips for Recruiting Manufacturers

While economic conditions may play a part in the lack of hiring, employers that adopt these four best practices—provided by Oliveri—will stand out as manufacturing employers of choice:

  1. Personalize the hiring process. “Technology is penetrating every aspect of business operations, including recruiting. Software solutions like applicant tracking systems and online personality tests should be used to supplement, not replace, the human side of recruiting,” says Oliveri. “As software takes over time-intensive, mundane tasks like resume screening, HR personnel should have more time to reach out and build relationships with promising candidates.”
  2. Nip the rumors in the bud. Let’s face it: Manufacturing work and office work are polar opposites. Although manufacturing gets the bad rap of being “dirty or dangerous” work, HR and recruiters can help nip these rumors in the bud. “Manufacturers need to inform the public that, in fact, manufacturing work can be well compensated, digital tools are commonplace, skills in emerging technologies are rewarded, and technology advancements mean manufacturing is safer than ever,” says Oliveri. “Public relations campaigns, research grants, and partnerships with education institutes are the primary means of crafting a more accurate image for manufacturing.” Also, consider creating video job descriptions to help show candidates what it’s like to work at your company, and hopefully, this will squash these preconceived notions.
  3. Create a culture geared toward Millennials and Generation Z. The younger generations are going to take up a majority of the workforce in just a few years; if you want to attract these workers now, you must create a culture that resonates with their love for technology and flexibility. Highlight the technology your company offers in all candidate communications, consider offering professional development as a benefit, and be sure to offer the work/life balance these workers crave.
  4. Offer mentorship/onboarding programs. While recruiting talent is a challenge, retaining talent is an even bigger challenge. Oliveri suggests that in order to retain great workers and all the industry knowledge they possess, you must include them in your mentorship and onboarding programs. Older workers will be able to pass on the knowledge they have before retiring, and younger workers will be able to ask questions and learn from these workers’ experiences before it’s too late.

If you’re one of the many manufacturing employers that struggle to attract and retain top talent, keep these four tips in mind! To learn more about the QuickBooks report, click here.

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