Review Benefits To Retain Employees

Predictions of a worker shortage abound, just when you need a dedicated, skilled staff the most.

With a consensus of better-times-ahead for manufacturing spreading, it would be easy to think the worst times for your company are behind. But imagine this disaster: Your customers are banging on the door, but your employees are searching for the nearest exit. Yet another survey warns of a worker shortage just when manufacturing is poised for a rebound. And it's not just a lack of skills behind this threat but the competing opportunities that will emerge with a stronger economy. According to a just-completed survey by New York-based Sibson Consulting, U.S. companies are likely to experience a doubling of turnover as the economy recovers. The study found that one out of six employees is at high risk of leaving his or her job, the same proportion found in a similar Sibson survey in 2000; and most employees said they could be induced to leave their current positions with the right rewards. In follow-up research to the 2000 survey, Sibson found that half of the employees identified as high-risk for leaving actually did. So, one could surmise that at least one of 12 employees, or about 8.3%, will leave their jobs in the next three years, but the number is likely to be much higher considering that those leaving after 2000 left when the job market was contracting, while the 2003 survey participants will be leaving during an upswing. Also, today's leaner staffs are less able to absorb additional work, so the exodus' impact will be greater. "Managers, especially human resource managers, seem to have short memories," says Gerald E. Ledford Jr., a senior vice president at Sibson. "No one should forget the trauma of trying to attract, retain and develop workers during the super-heated job market of the late 1990s. Yet few companies are laying the foundation to avoid the same problems when the economy turns up, and the job market tightens." In addition to expanding opportunities, a massive retirement of aging workers and simultaneous snub of manufacturing careers by young people are threats to manufacturers. "The coming skills shortage is an issue that's come up at every single one of the Commerce Department's hearings," says Phyllis Eisen, who leads the National Association of Manufacturers' (NAM) Center for Workforce Success and is referring to hearings held on this summer on manufacturing's future. "There just aren't enough young people in the pipeline who have the interest or the abilities in math and science to fill the void that will be left when the bulk of the baby boomers start retiring." In response, NAM has launched a "Campaign for Growth and Manufacturing Renewal," an effort to make manufacturing careers a preferred choice by the end of the decade. The plan includes marketing, career planning and a public education campaign.

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