Here’s Why the Manufacturing Industry is Seeing a Downshift (and How to Attract Talent)

As the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China has intensified, the manufacturing industry has been particularly hard-hit. In fact, the most recent jobs data found that hiring for the industry plummeted to nearly a three-year low, according to Reuters. This is “suggesting a further loss of momentum in economic growth early in the third quarter as trade tensions between Washington and Beijing persist,” according to the news publication.

In an interview with reporters, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell discussed the manufacturing segment’s recent hiring problems, saying that the industry is “not growing much.” More specifically, The New York Times reported, “The Trump administration’s tariffs have affected many factory owners who depend on overseas suppliers for components and raw materials.”

Reuters pointed to recent data from the Institute for Supply Management to discuss just how much the industry has been struggling in recent weeks. “The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity slipped to 51.2 last month, the lowest reading since August 2016, from 51.7 in June,” according to the report. “The ISM said ‘trade remains a significant issue.’”

Factory hiring has also started to slow as a result of the trade issues, although “U.S. manufacturing is in relatively better shape compared to the rest of the world.”

Although the industry as a whole has seen a downturn, there are some bright spots that are quite notable. For example, the ISM said that there are nine industries within manufacturing that have seen job growth. These industries included wood, computer and electronic products and textile mills reported. And what about those sectors that have contracted? Those included machinery, transportation equipment, and electrical equipment, appliances and components manufacturing.

So, what can be done to boost hiring and recruiting efforts in the parts of the manufacturing industry currently seeing a downturn? Getting creative is one way to do it, according to SHRM. First, that means tackling the industry’s image problem thanks to negative perceptions. “If manufacturing has any hope of attracting workers, it must deal with its image problems,” according to SHRM. To help combat this and get a strong pipeline of incoming talent within the industry (which can make for managerial and senior hires down the road), one tactic to take as a company is to attend career fairs at trade schools and local colleges.

Another issue within the manufacturing industry is a severe shortage of highly skilled workers that is needed to fill more senior roles. To help, upskilling workers is one tactic you can take at your organization. This can include funding educational programs for workers for certification courses and even additional skilling. Partnering with a talent search and advisory firm can also help connect your organization with gainfully employed, highly skilled talent that are more difficult to find, especially senior leaders.

Otherwise, simply keeping workers happy is another way SHRM recommends can aid with hiring in the industry. “Once companies find skilled workers, they want to ensure that those workers stay. So, some are turning to programs and practices that aren’t often associated with hourly employment,” according to SHRM. These include providing “flexible work schedules and paid leave policies” to employees to help them stay – and thrive – at your organization for years to come.

In sum, while the manufacturing industry is seeing an overall downturn in hiring, there are tactics you can take to recruit and attract talent. These include attending more careers fairs as an organization, upskilling workers already at your firm so that they may move up the ranks as well as offering flexible work schedules to keep them content.