Create Tomorrow's Manufacturing Talent Today With These 8 Simple Strategies

Many industries face growing labor challenges today, but few demand attention as urgently as manufacturing. As the backbone of several other sectors, manufacturers must maintain growth and productivity, but its current workforce isn’t growing at the same rate as these demands. Attracting younger talent is crucial amid this trend.


Why Manufacturers Need New Talent

Like many sectors, manufacturing suffered a dramatic workforce loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While things have improved, the industry still has 622,000 unfilled positions as of January 2024.

More worryingly, this gap will only grow if current trends persist. Manufacturing employees have a median age of just over 44 years old — two years higher than the overall average. That figure only presents part of the problem, too. Just 8.9% of the manufacturing workforce is 24 or younger, and 25% is 55 or older.

A considerable portion of manufacturing employees will reach or surpass retirement age within the next 10 years. Fewer young people are entering the workforce to replace them. Rising output and efficiency demands further intensify the issue.

Automation can offset some of this impact. However, automation and AI require specialized skills to use effectively — skills that younger, more tech-savvy workers are more likely to have. Given these mounting concerns, manufacturers must focus on attracting and retaining new talent. Here are eight straightforward strategies that can help in that endeavor.


1. Emphasize Opportunities in Tech

One of the best talent retention strategies for modern manufacturers is to highlight the industry’s use of exciting new technologies. Many young workers may overlook a career in this sector because they incorrectly assume it’s an old-fashioned, heavily manual industry. Despite that image, many manufacturers use cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing and digital twins.

As Industry 4.0 initiatives grow, more manufacturers will have job opportunities in things like AI and data analytics. Emphasizing these roles and showing job-seekers how they’ll get to use these innovations can help reshape the industry’s image. This strategy is doubly useful for manufacturers because these technical skills are precisely where the industry must attract talent the most.


2. Make Training More Engaging

Similarly, manufacturers can integrate technologies like virtual and augmented reality into the training process. In addition to attracting a tech-minded workforce, these tools make onboarding more engaging. As a result, workplace safety improves, employee efficiency increases and turnover is likely to decrease.

While manufacturers rethink their training programs, they should consider ongoing career development. Studies find things like visible skill progression and career advancement are some of the most important factors in retaining young workers.


3. Keep Compensation Competitive

Many young workers are also wary of manufacturing because of misconceptions about its compensation. Inflationary pressures and rising living costs have made wages and benefits increasingly important to young workers, so a competitive salary package is essential. Many manufacturers already offer competitive pay, but young applicants may not recognize it.

Manufacturing workers made an average of $98,846 in 2022 — almost $15,000 more than the average for all nonfarm work. However, the industry doesn’t necessarily have a reputation for being so well-paying. Wage transparency and emphasizing these competitive rates in job ads can help reverse that trend.


4. Refine Job Descriptions

These misconceptions around pay and tech adoption suggest manufacturing job descriptions aren’t as informative as they should be. Consequently, organizations could see significant hiring boosts from updating these listings. Detailed information about compensation, hours, career advancement opportunities and what the job entails day-to-day will attract more young talent.

This transparency is important for more than just highlighting the beneficial nature of these jobs. It also communicates a spirit of honesty and trust, which is more important to younger job-seekers. New workers disillusioned with high prices and shady business practices don’t want to apply without knowing what they’re getting into.


5. Expand Internship Programs

Internships are another excellent opportunity to attract talent and fight misconceptions about the job through firsthand experience. Consequently, manufacturers should expand their internship opportunities. One effective way to do so is to offer these positions to high school students, not just college-age workers.

High schoolers may be more willing to accept internships to strengthen college applications and may have less need for a higher-paying job than a college student. Manufacturers benefit by introducing more young people to the industry. Making these connections and fostering a positive image of the sector helps solidify it as an attractive sector to work in.


6. Capitalize on Social Media

Image-focused talent attraction strategies are only effective if these marketing materials reach the intended audience. Manufacturers must meet young professionals where they are to inform them about the industry and what it offers. In today’s world, that means using social media to connect with potential employees.

Gen Zers and Millennials account for 75% of those spending five hours or more on social media daily. More interestingly for manufacturers, 77% of Gen Zers say social media is their primary news source, highlighting these platforms as a way to inform younger audiences. Given this high usage, social media ads and frequent activity on these sites can help manufacturers engage further with tomorrow’s talent.


7. Offer Flexible Scheduling

Another effective strategy to attract talent today is to offer more flexibility. Now that remote and hybrid work has become the norm, many younger workers want some amount of schedule flexibility from their employers. While not all manufacturing positions are possible to perform remotely, manufacturers can be flexible in other ways.

One solution is to move away from the conventional, two-to-three-shift model in favor of more staggered shifts. Some facilities could offer special shifts for college and high school students with reduced hours and more work on weekends to leave room for school. Automating some workflows will create more flexibility for scheduling, too, as robots can reduce minimum staffing requirements.


8. Foster an Inclusive Company Culture

Manufacturers should also consider their company culture when attracting new talent. The sector’s reputation for being old-fashioned may repel some job-seekers who think they wouldn’t be comfortable in the workplace or wouldn’t agree with the brand’s stance. These issues are particularly prominent concerning DEI, which 80% of Gen Zers say is important in evaluating potential employers.

The appropriate response is to review the current workforce, and see where and how it can improve in terms of fairness and culture. Manufacturers should promote greater inclusivity and make this commitment a big part of their outreach materials. Emphasizing a positive, inclusive culture in job listings will help attract socially minded young professionals.


Manufacturers Must Rethink Their Hiring Strategies

Even amid record-setting automation, the manufacturing industry needs more human talent to sustain productivity into the future. To do that, it must reassess how it attracts new workers.

These eight strategies are straightforward but can yield impressive results. Applying these steps will help manufacturers become the kinds of places young employees want to work at and reshape the industry’s image.


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