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Perceptions of Manufacturing is Changing, But More Work is Needed

Perceptions of Manufacturing Are Changing, But More Work is Needed

March 30, 2022
Compared to 2017, jobs in manufacturing are considered innovative, but there are still hundreds of thousands of open jobs.

The news was good, and it even surprised a seasoned manufacturing expert. “The perception of manufacturing as a good place to work increased dramatically in our current study.  The percentage of the change even surprised me,” said Paul Wellener, vice chairman, US Industrial Products & Construction Leader, Deloitte LLP.

The study, 2022 Manufacturing Perception Study, from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, found that 64% of those surveyed viewed manufacturing jobs as innovative. And that compares to 39% in 2017, the last time the study was conducted. 

“A lot has happened over the past two years that has demonstrated how important manufacturing is to our society,” notes Wellener. “From the miracle of creating a vaccine, to the ability to put food on the table during a pandemic.”

The survey supported that sentiment as 73% of those surveyed said that manufacturing was critical to the pandemic response by producing PPE, ventilators and other essential goods and equipment. And that view led 61% to say that their perception of the sector improved.

While this is welcome news, it must be viewed in terms of how many manufacturing jobs need to be filled. “In the past 11 months there have been 808,000 openings in manufacturing,” says Carolyn Lee, president, of The Manufacturing Institute. “There are so many jobs open that manufacturers, 45% in this survey, said they are turning down orders as they don’t have the workforce to produce the products.”

And even those who are in the field are quitting at a higher rate than in other industries

Why Can’t We Attract More People?

The perception of the industry continues to thwart potential employees from taking jobs in manufacturing. “Many people still don’t understand just how technologically advanced today’s factory floor is,” says Lee. “It’s an innovative, interesting place, where daily employees face new challenges while producing products that make people’s lives better.”

Stressing technology is key, notes Lee, as the younger generations grew up with and are very comfortable with technology and expect their jobs to involve working with technology.

Educating potential employees on the innovation factor of the field is essential. The study notes that manufacturers perform the majority (85%) of private sector R&D. And advanced manufacturing generates more than 85% of all US patents.

Another aspect of manufacturing that has not also been vocalized to potential employees is that the field offers a career, not simply a job. The study concludes that a “misperception exists among recent college graduates, who may not realize that a manufacturing career would offer them the opportunity to use their skills and build a career path.”

Wages are always an issue and again the industry has not done a great job of advertising that the field pays well. The study found that the average hourly earnings in 2021 for manufacturing were $30 compared to $28 for services and $22 for retail. Given the intense competition for talent and pay always sitting at the top of how people choose jobs, the industry needs to speak up.

Other issues such as benefits, flexibility, education, diversity and being part of a company that is mission-driven are explored in the study.  

A Framework for Change

The study offers the following framework to address workforce challenges.

Engage

  • Sponsor internship and apprenticeship opportunities, as immersive, hands-on opportunities can deliver greater results than digital or media interaction
  •  Leverage social media more to advertise hiring events
  •  Revisit application policies by shortening the time for applications, background checks, and drug tests
  • Utilize employee referrals by offering referral bonuses and reducing the processing time for referrals
  •  Increase visibility in the community and utilize local advertising more effectively
  •  Pilot innovation through onsite job fairs, and encourage walk-in applicants
  •  Proactively invest in sourcing a diverse talent pool by working with local educational institutions to develop open courses providing candidates with needed skills
  • Cater outreach activities to specific demographics in a factory area, accommodating multiple languages
  • Continue to communicate that salaries and benefits in manufacturing are competitive with those offered in retail and service industries

Involve

  • Implement a buddy system for new employees to receive guidance from their colleagues
  • Create specialized roles for retired/retiring employees to share their institutional knowledge with newer employees
  • Continue programs that foster an inclusive environment in the workplace, whether in the office or shop floor
  • Establish sponsorship programs and infrastructure for reverse mentorship, to connect successful, networked senior leaders with more junior colleagues
  • Encourage returnships—maintain an open-door policy to pave the way for the workforce to re-enter the industry

Evolve

  • Continue to boost efforts at scheduling flexibility, such as offering a compressed work week to balance well-being with work demands and providing options to take a day off during the work week
  • Shift work to accommodate holidays and family obligations
  • Realign both new and lateral roles for the workforce to explore a wide variety of growth opportunities
  • Revise job titles, levels, and job descriptions to allow comparability so that employees can better see where other job opportunities exist across the company
  • Continue to evaluate and address potential bias, unconscious or otherwise, in talent, succession planning, rewards, and performance management processes
  • Continue to increase visibility regarding career path options and empower people managers to have career conversations with their reports

“We need to adjust and act now and take advantage of the very positive things that we saw in this survey,” Manufacturing is at a very important part in history, maybe even a tipping point,” said Wellener.

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