Accentuate the future: Attracting talent to the modern US manufacturing industry

By Craig Giffi and Michelle Drew Rodriguez

For many brands, from apparel to automakers, “Made in the USA” has long been a source of pride and differentiation. Americans continue to hold the US manufacturing industry in high regard. In fact, according to a study by Deloitte, The National Association of Manufacturers, and The Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing is viewed as very important to America’s economic prosperity (83 percent), standard of living (81 percent), and national security (62 percent).1

Yet today’s manufacturing industry is evolving rapidly and faces a series of challenges. The convergence of the digital and physical worlds is bringing changes on the production line and in the supply chain that require highly specialized skills. Many Baby Boomers in the current skilled workforce are reaching retirement age. As a result, manufacturing companies face a critical shortage of talent—it’s estimated that the industry will face a shortage of two million workers over the 2015-2025 period.2

Why the shortfall? In addition to the limited availability of a qualified workforce and the demand for specific skill sets, another reason is the perceived attractiveness of the industry. Manufacturers are finding themselves competing with tech giants and startups for the best and brightest talent.

Current public perception

To find out how Americans perceive the manufacturing industry, Deloitte, The National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute teamed up to oversee a multiyear research initiative. An independent research company conducted an online survey of more than 1,000 Americans across the 50 states for each study.

The results of the study indicate the manufacturing industry is at a critical point. While the majority surveyed (roughly 8 in 10) view US manufacturing as vital to maintaining the economic vitality of the country, fewer than 5 in 10 respondents believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, clean, safe, stable, and secure. Manufacturing isn’t the preferred industry to start a career today, with less than 3 out of 10 Americans willing to encourage their children to pursue a career in that sector. However, respondents familiar with manufacturing are nearly two times more likely to encourage a career in manufacturing.

Imagining the future

On a positive note, when asked what future jobs in manufacturing will look like, Americans have an overwhelmingly favorable view and believe manufacturing will grow stronger in the longer term. Future jobs will require high-tech skills (88 percent), will be clean and safe (81 percent), and will be more innovative (77 percent).

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe developing a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority and that the government should provide tax incentives to encourage it. They also cited cutting health care costs, instituting a comprehensive energy policy, and implementing reforms in the education system as actions that would boost US competitiveness.

Attracting and retaining talent

Based on these findings, it’s clear that manufacturers could benefit by tapping into the future vision of manufacturing to attract talent to the industry. Programs directed toward hands-on skills development, such as internships, apprenticeships, and certification, would find the most traction among Americans surveyed.

Manufacturers should also raise awareness of the advantages of working in the industry. Strong job benefits and high salaries are attributes of current manufacturing careers—which 9 in 10 Americans cite as critical to their job selection. The manufacturing industry has the longest tenure for workers (9.7 years), one of the lowest employee turnover rates (2.3 percent), and the highest average wages ($81,289) across all private sector industries.

Tapping into groups that are most likely to consider manufacturing careers is another targeted strategy. Manufacturing is ranked as the third most important industry in terms of bringing jobs to communities—with parents, Generation X, and those familiar with manufacturing ranking it as #1.

As manufacturers look to attract top talent, the key to success lies in improving the industry’s existing image and promoting modern manufacturing as a career option. Here, jobs at the forefront of technology are readily available—in a clean, safe environment offering ample opportunities for advancement.

In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at how manufacturing executives can build a talent pipeline to compete as the industry evolves.

To get a more in-depth look of the findings, download the full report and infographic. And be on the lookout for an upcoming series of blog posts on the key themes identified in our study.

1A look ahead: How modern manufacturers can create positive perceptions with the US public,” Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 2017.
2The skills gap in US manufacturing: 2015 and beyond,” Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 2015.

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