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Retention Strategies for Manufacturers in a Post-COVID World

Oct. 1, 2021

A year and a half into the pandemic, manufacturers continue to ride the unpredictable rollercoaster that has replaced business-as-usual since the global onset of COVID-19.  While things are starting to stabilize and improve, manufacturers face the same primary challenge they did before, only worse: a labor shortage.

There are 500,000 open manufacturing jobs. Turnover is 15% higher than in pre-pandemic years. Absenteeism is skyrocketing. At this rate, 2.4 million jobs will go unfilled by 2028. The industry meanwhile is experiencing its highest level of demand since 1983.

That being said, there’s also a silver lining of sorts: an opportunity to try something different. It’s time to put recruitment and retention strategies on the frontburner to meet demand with a workforce that is ready to deliver. It’s a chance to build a more competitive organization than ever before.

Invest in Workforce Technology

Manufacturing has made leaps and bounds when it comes to Industry 4.0. Automation, machine learning, sensors and robots revolutionized how things are made and built. Ironically, while the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, it accelerated a digital transformation in manufacturing.

While this transformation has driven change across the industry, companies need to match it with an investment in workforce technology. A mobile productivity platform allows every employee to use their mobile device to communicate with colleagues and managers, access safety information, learn new skills and give feedback. Access to digital data helps employees optimize their individual performance and feel good about their work.

Workforce technology can do wonders for recruitment and retention. Simply making this investment in your workforce is a big morale booster.

At the same time, keep in mind:

  • A connected workforce is a stronger workforce. Access to information builds a team of empowered problem solvers.
  • New talent wants better technology. The next generation of workers are digital natives looking to work for companies that prioritize spending on workplace technology.
  • Frontline workers want connection. The stress of COVID-19 has taken its toll on workers. Fifty-five percent of employees say their mental health has deteriorated during  the pandemic. A mobile collaboration tool can provide a much-needed sense of connection —especially for frontline workers who often work on their own.

Reskill Workers

Industry 4.0 has changed the nature of industrial work. In fact, 58% of manufacturing is considered automatable, more than any other industry. But it has created a widening skills gap. Workers lack the knowledge and know-how for this new digital landscape. This slows production, increases operational costs and can create safety hazards. It can also lead to higher turnover as frustrated workers quit to find jobs they feel competent at.

Companies need to define the new roles they need in today’s industry. They’ll need workers to have greater cognitive and analytical abilities and soft skills for jobs like people management, IoT supervisors, smart factory managers, programmers, and robotics coordinators.

Companies can then equip workers with the skills they need for this new era in several ways, such as:

  • Give workers in-house mentors so they can learn on the job for seamless transition to new roles
  • Send employees to take relevant courses at local technical or community colleges
  • Use a mobile collaboration platform to share training resources
  • Create written and visual instructional content that workers can access anytime to develop new skills

Empowering workers with new skills will create opportunities for them to grow within the company and a reason to stay longer.

Offer a Competitive Benefits Package

It will come as no surprise that benefits are still a top priority for employees. Eighty-three of people say health insurance is a determining factor in choosing a new job or deciding whether to stay at one.

To improve retention, manufacturing companies should review their current employee offerings. While investing in a competitive benefits package might seem like a big investment, think about the cost of turnover. According to Gallup, a 100-person company with a $50,000 average salary base could see an annual price tag between $600,000 and $2.6 million for replacing employees who leave.

What kind of benefits do employees want? First, they want good health insurance. They also want more paid time off, greater flexibility, work-life balance and paid family leave, to name a few. It’s a small investment to make for a happier workforce.

Promote Diversity and Inclusion

When the leaders at Dow realized their manufacturing workforce lacked representation from different demographics, the company refocused their hiring efforts to diversify their workforce. They also created employee resource groups (ERG) so workers feel more connected. As a result, Dow is now more productive and innovative thanks to its recent initiatives.

It’s easy to believe you have an open and inclusive workplace. But take a look around. Do you see an organization that’s representative of the world outside? If not, it’s time to create space and be deliberate in your efforts to change your approach to hiring.

Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Create an employee-led diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) task force to organize outreach efforts and build a more inclusive culture.
  • Recruit talent from different demographics. For example, share job openings with groups dedicated to female engineers.
  • Set the tone from the top by creating policies from the top-down that promote diversity while also encouraging bottom-up communication to hear from employees with different experiences and perspectives.
  • Create growth opportunities to build diverse management and executive teams from your frontline.

While manufacturing has long needed to fill its labor shortage, the pandemic created a unique set of circumstances as well as now-or-never situations. It’s time for companies to put people first and build a resilient workforce ready for a post-COVID world. Doing so will ensure a positive impact on the future of manufacturing. 

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