The Future of Hiring: Challenges of HR Directors in Manufacturing—Skilled Labor Shortages

A welder working on a factory floor, a role much in demand due to skills shortages that could be addressed via different manufacturing hiring practices.

Industry 4.0 might focus on technology and the rising wave of AI, but for the manufacturing sector, technology skills are not enough. Manufacturing facilities require machinists, welders, engineers, and technicians with practical skills and often highly specific experience. Yet current skills shortages mean there are roles simply going unfilled right across the sector—possibly 10 million roles worldwide (World Economic Forum, 2022).

How can HR leaders shift their manufacturing hiring practices to address these skills shortages, and attract top talent in one of the most competitive job markets in the world?

Driving Forces in the Manufacturing Skills Shortage

Why are there more manufacturing roles than skilled people to fill them? A key factor is an aging workforce that doesn’t have skilled workers waiting in the wings to replenish it. As highly skilled technicians retire, there are fewer young workers with the same skills to fill those roles. Around 25 percent of the American manufacturing workforce is over 55 (United States Census Bureau, 2020). This older sector of employees carries skills, experience, and knowledge that can’t simply be transferred to new members of staff. 

There’s also less interest in the physical side of manufacturing, although there are also shortages of skilled data analysts and IT staff with experience in manufacturing. Long, tough shifts are off-putting for many job seekers, especially when other industries offer remote work and flexible options that promote work-life balance.

Changing the Narrative: Attracting Top Manufacturing Talent

Clearly, HR leaders need to change recruitment strategies and combine these with in-house learning and development in order to create a skilled workforce of the future. There’s no way to address the fact that skilled workers are retiring or switching to less demanding roles, but there are ways to draw the remaining talent to your organization.

Share employee stories

If your manufacturing outfit is a great place to work, have the confidence to let your employees tell it like it is. Share videos of your employees talking honestly and openly about their experiences at work, and encourage them to talk about what they’ve learned on the job and why they stay with your company. These videos can be shared across multiple social media platforms and by recruitment professionals and agencies. If you can, highlight employees that have progressed from an entry-level role to a higher position within the company.

Build a brand based on values

Manufacturing and sustainability are more closely linked than ever. Beyond the government offering economic incentives to adopt “greener” manufacturing practices, it makes good business sense for organizations to move to more eco-conscious methods. Consumers want to buy from brands whose values align with their own, and people want to work for companies they believe have their best interests at heart. Wear your corporate values such as sustainability, inclusivity, and accessibility on your sleeve, and make sure you include them in all your recruitment material.

Encourage inclusivity

Recruitment strategies that focus largely on young, white men for physical roles are missing out on a huge sector of the workforce. Women account for just 30% of the manufacturing workforce (U.S DoC, 2023) while Black and Hispanic workers are often the worst hit by job losses within the sector (EPI, 2022). Manufacturing hiring practices that target women and minorities could be tapping into a hidden stream of talent. HR leaders should look at addressing what benefits packages attract more than one demographic, and the possibility of on-the-job training to create a permanently more diverse workforce.

By 2030, there could be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States (Deloitte, 2021). While there is no single solution to creating more skilled workers to fill these roles, HR directors can work with other leaders to shift manufacturing hiring practices and stand out from the crowd. Work with recruitment experts to uncover the strategies that position your organization as the place to be for skilled talent.

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