Building the talent pipeline: Managing perceptions of manufacturing versus reality

Photo by David Bohrer/National Assoc. of Manufacturers

By Craig Giffi and Michelle Drew Rodriguez

Manufacturing DaySM, an annual celebration of modern manufacturing designed to link manufacturers, students, educators, and their communities, awaits just around the corner on October 6. In recognition of this ambitious event that’s grown by 1000 percent since its introduction in 2012, let’s take a closer look at a recent study by Deloitte, The National Association of Manufacturers, and The Manufacturing Institute1 on the perception of manufacturing.

The study revealed a conundrum: Americans recognize the importance of the manufacturing industry, yet they don’t have a positive impression of current manufacturing jobs. On the bright side, public perceptions are far from reality.

What are the reasons behind the myths? Roughly one-third of Americans surveyed wouldn’t encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career, pointing to concerns around job security and stability, weak career path, and poor pay. Many believe students aren’t being encouraged to pursue manufacturing careers. Only 45 percent believe the school system in their community provides exposure to skills required to pursue a career in manufacturing (science, technology, engineering, and math). And just 24 percent believe their local school system encourages students to go after careers in manufacturing.

Dispel the misconceptions

As anyone close to the manufacturing industry knows, many of these concerns couldn’t be further from reality. Manufacturers could help ensure Americans know the facts about the industry by:

  • Dispelling concerns about stability and security. The average tenure of workers in the manufacturing industry is highest among all private sector industries at 9.1 years. The industry also has one of lowest employee turnover (2.3 percent) and quit rates (1.2 percent) among all private-sector jobs.
  • Dispelling concerns about career trajectory. Manufacturing jobs look a lot different than how they were depicted in the early days of working on the assembly line: New jobs require sophisticated technical and problem-solving skills. With many senior-level Baby Boomers retiring, we’ll see many job openings in high-skilled, high-tech positions, as well as in leadership positions.
  • Dispelling concerns about pay. The average manufacturing worker in the US earns almost more than $20,000 above the average employee working in other industries: $81,289 for the average manufacturing worker compared to $63,830 for the average US worker.

Reap the rewards

Manufacturers should also communicate how careers in the industry match the job criteria Americans seek:

  • Good benefits. US manufacturers have one of the highest percentage of workers who are eligible for health benefits (92 percent) provided by their employers, and 84 percent participate in their health plans.
  • Better pay. As noted above, manufacturing jobs pay higher than jobs in other industries. About 80 percent of manufacturing organizations indicate that they’re willing to pay more than the market rates in critical workforce areas.
  • Interesting and rewarding work. Today’s manufacturing jobs require continuous innovation—in fact, manufacturers in the US perform more than 75 percent of all private sector research and development in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. Advanced manufacturing and technology industries generate 85 percent of all US patents and employ 80 percent of the nation’s engineers.

Changing attitudes

With so much to offer the next generation, how can manufacturers increase interest in career opportunities? Internships, work studies, or apprenticeship programs rank at the top of the list, followed by manufacturing skills training and on-campus recruitment by firms. The “personal touch” factor also ranks high—many say that learning from other young adults in the industry, tours of manufacturing facilities, and hearing senior manufacturing executives highlight growth opportunities would help attract talent.

Manufacturing Day, also received consistently high marks: 88 percent indicate the activities/tours are interesting and engaging, 89 percent became more aware of manufacturing jobs in the community, 84 percent were more convinced that manufacturing provides careers that are interesting and rewarding, and 64 percent were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing.

The new manufacturing

Meanwhile, new technologies like robotics and 3D printing are transforming manufacturing and making the sector an even more exciting place to work. In our next blog, we’ll explore the advanced technologies that will have the most impact and why.

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.

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